England survived a spirited Italian side to claim a 36-15 bonus-point win at Twickenham on Sunday.
Eddie Jones’s men stuttered and fumbled their way through the first half allowing Italy’s intensity to throw them off their game after Giovanbattista Venditti scored just before halftime it looked as though Italy were about to claim their second big scalp under Conor O’Shea after beating South Africa in November.
But England found new life in the after the interval, presumably after getting a stern talking to from Jones, and scored six tries to claim the victory.
England go back into the driving seat on the Six Nations points table with the win, taking the top spot from Ireland and now sit on 13 points after three games. Italy couldn’t do enough to get themselves off the bottom spot.
Owen Farrell who won his fifteenth cap on the day, wasn’t in the finest kicking form, failing to convert on a number occasions missing three out of six attempts.
England had a terrible start to the game after number eight Nathan Hughes knocked on in the first two minutes of the clash before the loose-forward was found off his feet at ruck time, allowing Italy a shot at goal. Luckily for the Fiji-born player the kick was missed and the scores stayed at nil-all.
The home team’s discipline let them down in the first ten minutes which allowed Italy to camp in their half, but the visitors weren’t potent enough to use their field position.
The hosts made plenty of unforced errors as balls were knocked on, not used or kicked out on the full which led to the home side looking fairly innocuous 20 minutes, at which point one would think the second best side in the world would have had some points on the board against Italy.
The Azzurri should have been ahead by six points after 10 minutes as after two opportunities to kick, Tommaso Allan missed both of them. The hard work that Italy was putting in wasn’t being translated into points but they didn’t let that extinguish their zeal.
England finally had a legitimate opportunity to score after they attacked down the right wing only for Jonny May to knock the ball on to the palpable disappointment from the crowd.
England finally broke the deadlock after prop Dan Cole was pushed over the whitewash by his compatriots in a maul, after they were given a penalty on the Italian 22 metre line and kicked for touch before using their maul astutely to score. The conversion was missed by Farrell and England were ahead 5-0.
The home side’s sloppiness seeped into their game once again and after a slew of penalties and mistakes, Italy were five metres away from the English try-line and were looking dangerous. But thanks to some Maro Itoje magic the Italians were stopped in their tracks and the ball turned over.
Italy’s immense effort eventually translated into points after full-back Edoardo Padovani used his quick feet to send the English defence in disarray before consolidating their field position in the England 22 metre and then sending the ball back to Allan who sat deep in the pocket and slotted the ball through for the drop goal.
Danny Care then made an electric break, 30 metres from the Italian try-line after spotting a gap around the fringes of a ruck and took it brilliantly before putting in a nifty chip over Padovani to chase.
The full-back grabbed the ball in the air and stuck up his arm for the mark before Care tackled him over his try-line in feat of athleticism.
Italy were then given a penalty right in front of the posts after Italian lock Andries Van Schalkwyk was given a short pass and ran 20 metres towards the line before being taken down.
Hughes was found on the wrong side of the ruck once again and penalised. Allan hit the up-right to the dismay of the Italians but their fortunes changed dramatically when winger Giovanbattista Venditti pounced onto the ball and dragged several players with him over the line to score. Allan didn’t miss conversion.
England then levelled the scores when they were given a scrum in the Italian 22 metre and after a strong scrum that turned the Italian pack, referee Romain Poite blew up Italy again, Care took the opportunity in the best way possible and darted through the bewildered Italian defence to score.
The kicking curse of the day plagued Farrell once again and the kick went wide.
The home side used their new-found momentum well when Itoje offloaded the ball out from the ruck who swung it wide to outside centre Ben Te’o who sucked in the cover defence and found an unmarked Elliot Daly who scored in the corner. Farrell broke his kicking curse and slotted the conversion.
England replacement winger Jack Nowell’s try was disallowed in the 57th minute when the player took it quickly from the back of the ruck and ran in front of one of his own players before touching down.
The referee looked confused as to whether his decision was correct or not, but was vindicated after TMO George Ayoub agreed.
Italy weren’t done yet though, after some individual brilliance saw outside centre Michele Campagnaro receive the ball from a scrum on the 50 metre line before slipping through the English defence and leaving Mike Brown in his wake with a cheeky sidestep before sprinting over the tryline.
With Allan off injured Padovani took the kick but it went astray.
Moments later Farrell took a shot at goal from 50 metres out and missed it, failing to pull his side away from the Italians, the score stayed at 17-15 with 15 minutes left to play.
England were then given a five-metre lineout after a clever dab behind the Italian line sent their defence scurrying backwards to cover the loose ball with Daly racing towards it with serious speed.
The visitors were saved though when Carlo Canna came out of nowhere and kicked the ball out of Daly’s control into touch. They used the position perfectly as they mauled the ball right up to the Italian line, sucking in their forwards before spreading it quickly to Nowell who outpaced the Italian cover defence for the try.
The floodgates had opened after Nowell’s try. Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler made clever break through the opposition defence before being taken down on the Italian 22 metre. The ball was given blind and Ben Te’o scored his first try in an English jersey. Nowell bagged his second moments later.
The defending Six Nations champions ending the game with daylight between them and their opponents.
Tries: Cole, Care, Daly, Nowell 2, Te’o
Cons: Farrell 3
Tries: Venditti, Campagnaro
Drop Goal: Allan
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jack Nowell
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mata Mbanda’, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)