England Holds Off Italy to Stay in Six Nations Grand Slam Chase

England averted a potential upset against Italy to keep alive its bid for a sweep of its European rivals in rugby’s Six Nations Championship.

Toby Flood kicked six penalties in England’s 18-11 win yesterday at Twickenham Stadium in London. The home team had opened a 12-point lead early in the second half, then held off a late Italian rally.

The victory keeps England perfect after four matches, giving it the chance to complete its first so-called Grand Slam in a decade when it visits Wales on March 16. Second-place Wales, which has won three games, can guarantee the defense of its title by winning by at least eight points.

“We’re delighted to get the win and relieved because of the pressure they put us under in the last 15 minutes,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said in his post-match press conference. “We didn’t think for one minute it would be easy. But it proved more difficult than we’d hoped.”

England leads Wales by two points atop the standings heading into their matchup in Cardiff and has a points-difference advantage of 14, the first tiebreaker. A loss by fewer than seven points would still clinch the championship.

Should Wales win by seven points, the title would be decided on total tries, with the Welsh having scored two tries more than the English going into the match.

“This week is very much a mental exercise,” England captain Chris Robshaw told reporters. “We need to make sure that mentally we have the right game plan and make sure we go there and do what we’ve got to do.”

Pair of Penalties

Flood kicked a pair of penalties in the opening 16 minutes for a 6-0 lead. Italy got on the scoreboard through Luciano Orquera’s penalty in the 18th minute before Flood answered 20 minutes later after scrum-half Edoardo Gori was sin-binned.

Flood added penalties with the final kick of the first half and four minutes after the break to make it 15-3. Italy stormed back with eight points in a minute to give itself a chance of a first victory in the 19 meetings between the teams.

Orquera kicked his second penalty and Luke McLean scored the game’s only try, with Orquera missing the conversion.

Orquera then missed another penalty before Flood kicked his sixth to increase the lead to 18-11. Italy then controlled most of the final 10 minutes and Courtney Lawes leapt high to steal an attacking Italian lineout near his own try line with two minutes left to secure the win.

“We let the control slip in the second half and Italy pushed us right to the end,” Lancaster said. “We’ll have to improve on that performance.”

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