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Crane and Varndell enjoy Saxons win

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Jordan Crane and Tom Varndell were both involved for England Saxons as they completed a successful evening of international rugby for England on Friday night with a 34-5 victory over Italy A at Exeter Chief's Sandy Park Stadium. Crane played an hour of the match before being replaced by Harlequins' Nick Easter, while late call-up Varndell played the final five minutes of the five-try win.

Following England U-20s 31-5 victory over Scotland at Bath, Jim Mallinder's side were also looking to keep a clean sheet and they did just that impressive style. 

The Saxons certainly kicked-off the clash at a furious pace, applying the pressure early on but they were unlucky not to put any points on the board with fly-half Shane Geraghty missing two penalties and Wasps flanker James Haskell coming close to touching down, but being penalised for a forward pass.

Italy too had their chances with fly-half Luciano Orquera striking two unsuccessful drop goals and wing Matteo Pratichetti also coming close to scoring after a poor England line-out. He too was penalised for a forward pass.

For the Saxons though Geraghty broke his duck on 27 minutes with the 19-year-old hitting his target.

The points on the board certainly gave England a platform to work from and they kept the momentum going with their first try just two minutes later. 'Quins wing David Strettle was the star of the move. The 23-year-old made a magnificent break in the midfield and battled his way up-field to just ten minutes short of Italy's try-line. Bristol's Shaun Perry was in support and the scrum-half recycled the ball out-wide and through the backline with skipper Jamie Noon finally off-loading to Nick Abendanon. Geraghty missed the conversion to leave the score at 8-0.

Matters worsened for the Azzuri when they lost their skipper David Dal Maso to the sin-bin on the stroke of half-time and England immediately made the most of their opportunities. Swarming all over the Italians in their 22, Geraghty set-up Olly Barkley who broke loose to execute a timely pass to NEC Harlequins fullback Mike Brown who handed the Saxons a 13-0 lead at the break.
Still without their skipper, Italy slipped to a 20-0 deficit just a minute after the restart. This time Shaun Perry, in sparkling form and later deservedly named man of the match, took a quick tap penalty to surprise the Italians in their own 22 to set up Sale lock Dean Schofield, who muscled his way over the line for try number three. Geraghty converted.

Italy, however, saved their blushes when Geraghty's clearance kick, just five metres from England's try-line, was charged down by substitute Fabio Staibano who pounced on the ball to score. Their fly-half was also enduring a mixed afternoon with the boot and missed the conversion after 60 minutes.

Italy couldn't keep the momentum going and instead it was England's superior fitness that separated the two teams. Eventually Italy's fort crumbled and the Saxons ran in two more tries.

Brown made it a brace of scores on 78 minutes with a superb solo effort which Geraghty converted. Substitute Dylan Hartley then christened his debut with a 79th minute effort, powering his way over the line from a driving maul.

England Saxons head coach Mallinder said: "We are happy we got the win and I am also very satisfied with our performance. We probably could have done the basics better but we stayed patient and I was very impressed with our defence and our discipline. We gave away very few penalties.

"I thought our back three were excellent as was Shaun Perry. Shane Geraghty is young and inexperienced but has so much talent as we all saw tonight. A lot of players put their hands up tonight and with Brian Ashton and the other England coaches watching the game they will have some tough decisions ahead of next week's RBS 6 Nations game against Italy."

England Saxons

15 Mike Brown, NEC Harlequins, 14 David Strettle, NEC Harlequins, 13 Jamie Noon, Newcastle Falcons (captain), 12 Olly Barkley, Bath Rugby, 11 Nick Abendanon, Bath Rugby, 10 Shane Geraghty, London Irish, 9 Shaun Perry, Bristol Rugby, 1 Nick Wood, Gloucester Rugby, 2 Andy Titterrell, Sale Sharks, 3 Stuart Turner, Sale Sharks, 4 Dean Schofield, Sale Sharks, 5 Alex Brown, Gloucester Rugby, 6 James Haskell, London Wasps, 7 James Scaysbrook, Bath Rugby, 8 Jordan Crane, Leicester Tigers.

Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, Northampton Saints, 17 Tom Mercey, Saracens, 18 Chris Jones, Sale Sharks, 19 Nick Easter, NEC Harlequins, 20 Richard Wigglesworth, Sale Sharks, 21 Chev Walker, Bath Rugby, 22 Tom Varndell, Leicester Tigers
Tries: Abendanon, Brown (2), Schofield, Hartley

Conversions: Geraghty (3)

Penalties: Geragthy
Substitutions: Chris Jones on for Dean Schofield (60), Nick Easter on for Jordan Crane (60),  Hartley on for Titterrell (67), Wigglesworth on for Perry (73), Walker on for Noon (73), Varndell on for Strettle (75), Mercey on for Turner (75), Strettle back on for Brown (blood, 83).

Italy A

15. Michael Cagnoni (Calvisano), 14 Matteo Pratichetti (Cammi Calvisano), 13 Walter Pozzebon (Bristol Rugby) (VC), 12 Alessio Galante (Rolly Gran Parma), 11 Benjamin De Jager (Amatori Catania), 10 Luciano Orquera (Brive), 9 Matteo Mazzantini (Rolly Gran Parma), 1 Matias Aguero (Arix Viadana), 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Cammi Calvisano), 3 Lorenzo Cittandini (Cammi Calvisano),  4 Tommaso Reato (Femi CZ Rovigo), 5 Carlo Antonio Del Fava (Bourgoin), 6 David Dal Maso (Cammi Calvisano) (C), 7 Aldo Birchall (Viadana),  8 Gonzalo Padro' (Biarritz Olympique).

Replacements: 16   Luigi Ferraro (Carrera Petrarca Padova 17 Fabio Staibano (Overmach Cariparma),), 18 Michael Vella (Calvisano), 19 Robert Barbieri (Overmach Cariparma), 20 Andrea Marcato (Benetton Treviso), 21 Nicola Leonardi (Carrera Petrarca Padova), 22 Michele Maria Nitoglia (Amatori Catania).

Tries: Staibano

Substitutions: Nitoglia on for Cagnoni (40), Vella on for Reato (53), Barbieri  on for Birchall  (53), Staibano  for Cittandini (56), Ferraro on for Del Fava  (63), Marcato  on for Galante  (83)
Half-time score: England Saxons  13 Italy A 0

Referee: David Changleng
Touch Judge 1: Andy MacPherson
Touch Judge 2: David Anderson
TMO:   Andy Ireland

Attendance: 8,487