Toby Flood kicked all of England’s points with six penalties from the tee but they will travel to Cardiff next Saturday looking for a far better performance to dominate Wales who are still on course to retain their trophy.
England remain favourites to win the title but have a mere eight-point cushion in case of defeat.
They went into the game having never lost against the Italians since the introduction of the Azzurri in the Six Nations but couldn’t control a game that should have been won by half-time.
Despite enjoying most of the possession and territory in the first half, the England attack was too lateral while two clear wasted opportunities only made matters worse.
They saw the Italians, who were outstanding in defence in the first half, get themselves back into contention scoring the only try of the game early in the second half to set up a tense finish.
England had to defend their lines dearly in the late stages of the game as Italy pilled on the pressure but they held on and will travel to the Millenium still chasing a clean sweep.
Dan Cole and the whole England pack had a very good start as they turned the Italy scrum inside out to earn a penalty two minutes into the game.
Flood was successful from the tee and England was up and running early.
The Leicester fly-half doubled the lead ten minutes later before Tom Youngs was found guilty of collapsing an Italian drive and Luciano Orquera reduced the deficit with a penalty of his own.
Italy suffered two blows in quick succession on the half hour mark when Martin Castrogiovanni had to be taken off with a dead leg while scrum-half Eduardo Gori was sent to the bin for taking out Flood as the fly-half was trying to chase in own kick.
Despite playing with a man advantage, England wasted a couple of good scoring opportunities but Flood added two penalties to his personal tally and they were leading 12-3 at the break.
Flood kept the scoreboard ticking in England’s favour with his fifth penalty of the game early in the second half but Orquera reduced the gap straight away as his pack was awarded a penalty at the scrum.
It lifted their spirit up and, as England and Danny Care made a mess of a lineout clearance kick in their 22, Luke McLean scored the only try of the game collecting a perfectly weighted cross-field kick from Orquera.
The fly-half couldn’t converted but the visitors were only trailing by four points with 30 minutes left.
Orquera missed a penalty soon after but England pulled themselves together to go on the front foot and Flood kicked his sixth penalty to create a seven-point lead.
But it wasn’t to last and Italy finished the game in England’s 22 but couldn’t cross the line again to claim an historic win.
Penalties: Flood 6
Penalties: Orquera 2
Sin bin: Gori
England: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown; Toby Flood, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole; Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling; James Haskell, Chris Robshaw (Capt.), Tom Wood.
Replacements: Dylan Hartley, David Wilson, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees.
Italy: Andrea Masi; Giovanbattista Venditti, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Luke Mclean; Luciano Orquera, Edoardo Gori; Alberto De Marchi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Martin Castrogiovanni; Quintin Geldenhuys, Joshua Furno; Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri, Sergio Parisse (Capt.).
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Andrea Lo Cicero, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Francesco Minto, Simone Favaro, Tobias Botes, Tommaso Benvenuti.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Star man: Andrea Masi – Italy
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