Relief for Johnson as England labour to victory in Rome
Martin Johnson admitted he was relieved to escape Rome with a victory after watching England battle to an unconvincing 17-12 win against Italy.
Mathew Tait's try early in the second half ultimately proved the difference — but England needed a late Jonny Wilkinson drop goal to finally kill off a spirited Italian effort.
The Azzurri had trailed 14-6 but pushed England to the brink with four penalties from Mirco Bergamasco.
“You play Italy over here and it is never easy,” said Johnson.
“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 lineouts 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.”
England showed in flashes how dangerous an attacking force they could be and Tait's try was well-crafted by Nick Easter, Ugo Monye and Delon Armitage.
But England spent far too long engaged in an aimless kicking contest and Johnson criticised his players for failing to impose themselves.
“There were times when we could have kept it in hand a little bit more because when we did we looked good. The try we took very well,” said Johnson.
“At times we did play good rugby but there wasn't a try on the end of it. We missed kicks and try-scoring opportunities that would have changed the nature of the game.
“Six-all at half-time is approximately where we expected it to be.
“We found a way to score but from there you want to keep the pressure on. We didn't.
“The kick-chase wasn't good enough. When we did that we got turnovers, when we didn't it gave them a platform to create pressure.
“We lost that game for the majority of the match.
“The guys are happy to win but they knew they could have done better.”
Italy number 8 Alessandro Zanni was encouraged by his side’s performance.
“We showed that we can compete at this level,” he said.
“But we made a few mistakes and allowed England to take advantage.
“We now have two weeks to get things right for the match with Scotland.”