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Conor O'Shea defends team after Italy scare hosts

England 36 Italy 15

By Matt McGeehan

Head coach Conor O'Shea issued an impassioned defence of Italy after a 36-15 defeat to England at the end of a week in which the Azzurri's RBS 6 Nations place has been scrutinised.

Italy's refusal to contest rucks in the first half bamboozled England, who belatedly rallied in a six-try, bonus-point victory.

Georgia are outside the Six Nations elite, but ranked higher in the world rankings than Italy, who joined the championship in 2000 but are perennially sixth and have yet to beat England.

"I love rugby, always have, and I want to see this game grow," said O'Shea, whose side lost 63-10 to Ireland in Rome two weeks ago.

"All I hear is people saying: get rid, get rid. This is an unbelievable rugby nation which is in trouble. We are going to have to fight long and hard. The changes may not happen on our watch, but we'll have good days and tough days.

"We'll do it our way. We might fail, but we won't fail trying."

Former Ireland full-back O'Shea lamented the lack of praise heaped on Italy, who last November beat South Africa and were prepared to innovate at Twickenham.

The Grand Slam champions trailed 10-5 at the end of the worst half of Eddie Jones' reign, brought about by their inability to adapt to Italy's crafty refusal to form rucks.

The tactics proved unsettling and a succession of confused senior England players took it in turns to question referee Romain Poite over the ruse, Dylan Hartley making the first enquiry before Owen Farrell, James Haskell and Danny Care also sought answers.

Midway through the first half Haskell produced a comical reply from Poite when asking "how can we get them to form a ruck", to which the French official replied "I can't say, I'm a referee, I'm not a coach".

The discussions with Poite were a constant theme of a first period that ended with Italy wing Giovanbattista Venditti grabbing a penalty attempt that bounced off the left upright and touching down for a try to snatch a scarcely believable lead.

Even when England threatened to power clear with tries from Care and Elliot Daly shortly after the interval, Conor O'Shea's men refused to wave the white flag with Michele Campagnaro crossing to set up a tense final quarter.

But their resistance was eventually broken through touch downs from Ben Te'o and Jack Nowell in the last 10 minutes, adding an undeserved gloss to England's 17th successive victory.

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