- England - Italy - rugby - Six Nations
REUTERS - England secured a flattering 36-11 win over Italy in the opening Six Nations championship match on Saturday after failing to show the improvement demanded by coach Martin Johnson following their dismal November campaign.
England, beaten by Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the autumn international season, were never in danger from the moment flyhalf Andy Goode marked his return to international rugby with a try after two minutes.
They led 22-6 at halftime thanks to further scores by scrumhalf Harry Ellis and centre Riki Flutey. A second for Ellis and a late score in the corner by wing Mark Cueto made it 15 out of 15 wins for England against Italy.
However, England played barely any constructive rugby against a disorganised and injury-ravaged Italian side, had James Haskell and replacment Shane Geraghty yellow-carded, and will need to find a rapid improvement for next week's game against defending champions Wales.
"It's always the same first game back," man-of-the-match Ellis told the BBC. "It was a bit stuttery at times and we need to improve in every single area."
Goode marked his first appearance since 2006 by running on to Fabio Ongaro's over-thrown lineout throw and moments later chipping through to score his first international try in his 10th appearance.
Cueto, in his first game since the 2007 World Cup final, set up the second with a penetrating deep kick and thumping follow-up tackle. Haskell showed good skill at the turnover to set up Ellis, promoted to the side this week after an injury to Danny Care, to score.
Mauro Bergamasco endured a torrid time as emergency scrumhalf and launched a wild pass above the head of Gonzalo Garcia which the centre could not hold. Goode was on hand to hack ahead and Flutey, who struggled to live up to his billing in his debut series in November, scored his first England try.
Italy suffered another setback when they lost flyhalf Andrea Marcato to injury after half an hour, although his replacement Luke McLean landed two penalties to put his team on the board.
Goode, normally a highly reliable kicker, missed three of his six first-half attempts.
Coach Nick Mallett eventually admitted defeat with his scrumhalf experiment at halftime and brought on Giulio Toniolatti, who had only 15 minutes of international rugby to his name.
Italy looked more composed for the change, while England lost their way, and the crowd had to wait until the 55th minute for their next decent attack, and the fourth try, when Ellis ran in from 40 metres after a break by Flutey.
It was a rare moment to savour as England, as they did in their home defeats by the three Tri-Nations teams in the autumn, lost their shape and discipline in a second half almost devoid of any flowing rugby and punctuated by errors and an aimless and inexplicable kicking game.
Italy took heart and grew in confidence and they got their reward in the 72nd minute when winger Mirco Bergamasco scored in the right corner.