A week on from being completely outplayed by Scotland, the hosts always had the edge bar shipping the opening try within minutes of the start.
Despite the scoreline – England’s biggest since the World Cup, the performance was still not perfect and one wonders how they might fare against stronger opposition for the remainder of the Six Nations.
But six tries was just reward for a far more expansive game plan and a back three who came to life after being virtually silenced by the Scots to all find themselves over the try line.
The one sour note was a nasty injury to Jack Willis just moments after coming off the bench for his first Six Nations appearance and scoring with almost his first touch before being stretchered off in virtually the next passage of play.
It left England with something of a makeshift pack with Anthony Watson at No8 for the final 15 minutes of the match after an excellent afternoon for England’s No14, who scored a try either side of half-time.
But he was arguably upstaged by Jonny May’s moment of magic, launching himself airborne to avoid the tackler and score as England made it 20-8 at half-time. Eddie Jones’ decision to overhaul a third of his starting line-up – notably the entire front row – paid off handsomely as Kyle Sinckler was man of the match after returning from his ban and Luke Cowan-Dickie was a close second, a tyro in the loose.
But if Jones and England had been hoping for a settling start after the Scotland defeat, it certainly wasn’t forthcoming from the visiting Italians. A mix-up in defence between Watson and Elliot Daly opened the way for Montanna Ioane to run in unopposed, rewarding his team for the decision to turn down two previously kickable penalties.
And again England found themselves penalised at the breakdown, this time on three occasions in the opening 20 minutes. England were not rattled by the deficit as a week ago and took the lead as Jonny Hill was the man with the ball for his first international try in six starts for his country.
A penalty brought the Azzurri back level but, from there, they struggled to make inroads into English territory, kicking the ball repeatedly to England’s back three with acres of space. England’s remaining two tries of the half were down to individual moments of brilliance from their two wings.
First, Watson scythed through four Italian defenders with an old-school sidestep, although there were hints of a forward pass or two on the other side of the field in the build-up.
While Watson’s was a superb running wing’s try, there was something of the Superman about May with the final move of the half, throwing himself into the air to touch down in the corner before being bundled into touch.
The second half started much like the first with Ioane charging down the left flank, this time from a cross-field kick but, on this occasion, England’s defence held firm despite a missed Daly tackle.
Against the run of play after a scrappy restart with repeated handbags between both sets of players, a Watson intercept inside his own half saw him run in for a second try 10 minutes into the half.
Jones had waxed lyrical about the potency of his bench and they duly helped extend England’s stranglehold. Willis had barely made his Six Nations debut before he scored his first Six Nations try. The foundations for the score were laid down by a great Dan Robson run, with Willis scooping up the ball on the line and burrowing his way through.
Not long after Willis’ sorry departure to hospital, a quick break from the back of the scrum gave Italy a try that was a reward for their invention and persistence even though the game was out of their reach, Tommaso Allan the man to cut England apart.
The Italians had barely had time to celebrate the score when Daly ran in to notch England’s sixth and final try of the afternoon.
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