England had the boot of Josh Hodge to thank as a late penalty was enough to topple Italy by a solitary point to keep their hopes alive in Pool B of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Italy had led for much of the second half, but a gritty comeback from the Red Rose broke Azzurrini hearts.
Elsewhere, France bettered Wales to stay perfect in the tournament, while Ireland and Scotland fell to Australia and New Zealand respectively.
Italy were first on the scoreboard through Giacomo Da Re’s penalty, but a cagey affair followed, with England setting up shop in Italian territory, but for the Azzurrini defence to hold strong, wave-after-wave.
It was from the scrum when the pressure finally told, England getting a shift on from 5m out before the ball popped out and Alex Coles was on-hand to ground smartly.
And Da Re’s boot brought Italy to within one on the brink of half-time, the scores tantalisingly poised as the sides went in for their oranges.
Any momentum gained was carried over into the second 40, as the Italians turned over deep into English territory, before Lorenzo Citton sent a short, testing chip over the England line, but for an awkward bounce to present the ball for Cristian Lai to gather and score.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) June 8, 2019
And they added a quickfire second as a shell-shocked England stood aghast, once again turning over in irrepressible style before Davide Ruggeri fed Ange Capuozzo to scamper to the line.
England, hunger renewed, alarm activated, powered back into the match, Tom Willis doing the honours from an unstoppable driving maul while Italy were reduced to 14.
But the Azzurrini were not to be cowed, opting for attack as the best form of defence and promptly taking the ball right down the other end for Paolo Garbisi to restore their nine-point advantage.
In a topsy-turvy affair, Richard Capstick was the next to cross from close-range as England once again found themselves revived.
And with that, momentum was regained, and after rejecting one chance at three points in front of the posts in favour of the corner, they resolved not to make that same mistake twice when Hodge put England 24-23 to the good with six minutes left on the clock.
Despite intense Italy pressure at the last, England dug in, held on and took the spoils in a thrilling battle between the familiar foes.
It was France who prevailed in the other battle of the U20s Six Nations sides, as they ran in four tries to notch a 32-13 bonus-point triumph over Wales.
The defending champions did not have it all their own way, however, as Scarlets youngster Tomi Lewis crossed for the first try of the game inside five minutes, setting the tone for a tightly-balanced first half.
— Fédération Française de Rugby (@FFRugby) June 8, 2019
Louis Carbonel wrenched France ahead as he converted his own try after slotting a penalty to put them 10-8 up at the break, but it was the second 40 when they turned on the gas.
Scores from Matthis Lebel, Vincent Pinto and Julien Delbouis snagged the bonus point and proved enough for the win in spite of Lewis adding a second for Wales.
The result sees France maintain their perfect start to the competition, while Wales must beat hosts Argentina in their final Pool A game to have a shot at knock-out qualification.
Fourteen-man Ireland had earlier given Australia a scare, but a trio of tries in the final 20 minutes from the southern hemisphere side handed them a 45-17 triumph in Santa Fe.
The U20s Six Nations side made the worst possible start to proceedings in the north-east province, Ryan Baird shown red for a high tackle after just a quarter of the contest played.
The highlight of a difficult afternoon as 14-man Ireland are undone by 3 tries in 4 minutes in the final quarter. Hats off to the Junior Wallabies who win out 45-17. #WorldRugbyU20s #FutureIsGreen https://t.co/vuq6XbHIAo
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 8, 2019
They dug in, however, going into the break trailing 10-7 after Craig Casey’s try had wrenched them back into contention.
And it was they who took the surprise initiative at the start of the second 40, Stewart Moore grabbing his second score of the tournament with a fine solo effort.
But the man deficit soon began to tell, as Australia stretched their opponents, scoring three times to turn the game around in the closing period and dealing Ireland their first defeat of the tournament.
Six-time tournament winners New Zealand found themselevs tested by Scotland, but had just enough to hold off a pair of charges from the U20 Six Nations outfit.
U20 | 80′ | Try New Zealand. Captain Kaylum Boshier adds some gloss to the scoreline with a try in the final play of the match.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) June 8, 2019
Four early tries without reply for the All Blacks looked to have stunned Scotland into submission, but Robbie McCallum put them on the board with a 28th-minute try, before Ollie Smith got them back into the game with another.
He added a second early in the second half to cut the deficit to just seven as New Zealand looked to be wavering, but Lalomilo Lalomilo chose the perfect time to grab his second as Scotland’s comeback was stunted.
Two further tries put the result beyond doubt, but Scotland kept up their stirring display to keep New Zealand on their toes, tries from Ewan Ashman and Jack Blain capping off a high-scoring affair as the All Blacks took it 52-33.