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Six Nations: England beat Italy to set up Grand Slam decider
England remain on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003 after beating Italy 18-11 despite their worst performance of this year's Six Nations Championship.
Toby Flood kicked six penalties from six attempts but it was Italy who played the better attacking rugby and scored the game's only try through Luke McLean early in the second half.
England were disjointed in attack, used the ball too laterally and wasted what few chances came their way, but all that really matters is they will head to Cardiff next Saturday just one win away from a Grand Slam.
England got a nudge at the first scrum inside two minutes and Flood fired over from long range, then almost got a try after Flood missed touch with a penalty, Mike Brown charging down Andrea Masi's attempted clearance and just failing to touch down as the ball bounced dead.
Early dominance was rewarded by a second Flood penalty on 15 minutes for sealing off, but when Italy got a good driving maul rolling and it was dragged down, Luciano Orquera made it 6-3.
England's best chance of the game arrived shortly afterwards as Flood darted through a gap and Chris Ashton was dragged down just short of the posts.
The ball was recycled but with three men waiting for the try-scoring pass out wide, Flood went for the line and was held up by three defenders. England engaged early at the five-metre scrum and the chance was gone.
Danny Care's quick tap penalty inside his own 22 set England racing 60 metres only for Geoff Parling to run into Mako Vunipola and they were grateful for a scrum penalty and an offside in the closing minutes of the half as Flood took the score to 12-3.
Three minutes into the second half, Tom Wood was dragged down in the air at a lineout and Flood kicked another fine penalty, before Orquera replied after Italy won a scrum penalty.
But on 48 minutes Italy had the score that changed the game. A lineout inside the England 22 went wrong, Care compounded the error with a poor box kick and after Alessandro Zani collected, Orquera fired over a cross-kick which Luke McLean caught in the corner before dropping over the line.
Orquera missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty, so when Italy were caught offside, Flood was able to stetch the lead to seven points.
The final 10 minutes belonged to the Azzurri as they battered away at the England line. The defence was determined and disciplined and on this evidence England may need more of the same in six days' time.