MARTIN JOHNSON admitted his relief as nervy England made it two wins out of two in the Six Nations at the expense of plucky Italy in Rome.
The Red and Whites looked to be coasting to a first away victory under Johnson’s reign when Mathew Tait rounded off a well-worked move to touch down early in the second half.
But Italy fought back and two penalties from Mirco Bergamasco set up a tense finale before Jonny Wilkinson helped England stagger over the line with a late drop-goal.
Johnson’s men now have an extra week to recover from this bruising battle before they take on Ireland in their next Six Nations encounter at Twickenham on 27 February.
But while he accepts there’s plenty of room for improvement, Johnson is just relieved the unbeaten record is still in tact. “You play Italy over here and it is never easy,” he said.
“Scotland have lost here, Wales have lost here. I am happy to win today. It was a tough, physical game which we thought it would be. The frustrating thing is we opened them up but we didn’t take those chances. The guys knew they could have done better. You can lose close games like that if you lose your discipline and composure.
“It was disappointing in the second half, we lost five line-outs and we couldn’t get field position. That is a big number of set-piece balls to lose.
“We were attacking from 80 metres out. It makes it tough, we didn’t have enough possession in their half.”
Armed with their monstrous pack and siege-like kicking game, the Italians showed their intentions from the off, although Johnson’s men demonstrated patches what a dangerous attacking force they can be.
All too often, however, their finishing was poor and they were eventually sucked into an aerial kicking war which suited the Italians down to the ground.
Wilkinson matched Bergamasco’s two penalties to make it 6-6 at the break, but missed three more including an early sitter.
But soon after the restart, England finally cut loose when Nick Easter, Ugo Monye and Delon Armitage combined for Tait to touch down.
Wilkinson missed the conversion but a slotted home with a penalty to make it 14-6 after Leicester’s Martin Castrogiovanni was sent to the sin-bin for an infringement.
But England failed to capitalise on the extra man as Bergamasco brought it back to 14-12 before Wilkinson land a 32nd Test drop-goal five minutes from the end to see his side home.