England got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start when they claimed a 46-15 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday.
In a fast-paced and entertaining game, both sides gave the ball plenty of air but in the end England proved too strong and outscored their hosts seven tries to two with Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds scoring a brace each.
The win proved costly, however, as they lost the services of first-choice scrum-half Ben Youngs who left the field early in the game with what looked like a serious leg injury. Youngs’ leg got caught as he tried to get a pass out from a ruck in the 10th minute and he was subsequently replaced by Danny Care.
Despite finishing on the losing side, Italy were competitive for large periods and their tries were a fitting reward after they impressed with enterprising play which caught England by surprise.
The visitors started the game at a frenetic pace and opened their account in the third minute when Watson rounded off a well-worked try in the right-hand corner after brilliant work from Owen Farrell and George Ford in the build-up. England’s chief playmakers traded a couple of looped passes inside Italy’s 22, before Jonny May hit the line at pace before offloading to Watson, who went over in the right-hand corner.
In the 11th minute, England launched another attack and once again it was May who caused confusion in Italy’s defensive ranks when he joined his side’s back-line before getting a pass out to Watson.
The right wing still had work to do but his pace took him past a couple of defenders before he dotted down in the same corner again.
Despite being under the cosh for most of the opening quarter, Italy soaked up the early pressure and replied with a superb try from Tommaso Benvenuti. This after the ball went through several phases in the build-up before Tommaso Allan delivered a delightful long pass to Benvenuti who crossed for a deserved five-pointer.
In the 25th minute, England notched their third try when Ford put Farrell in the clear with a well-timed pass and he broke through the Azzurri‘s midfield before crossing the whitewash.
Just before half-time, Mako Vunipola was penalized for an infringement at a breakdown and Allan slotted the resulting penalty which meant England led 17-10 as the teams changed sides at the interval.
Shortly after the restart, England took the ball through several phases inside the Azzurri‘s half with Courtney Lawes prominent. Lawes was eventually brought to ground deep inside Italy’s 22 and from the ensuing ruck, Watson ran onto a pass from Care and beat a couple of defenders but he was denied his third try when he lost the ball while stretching over the try-line.
Italy thought they had narrowed the gap in the 47th minute when Tommaso Boni glided through a gap in England’s defence before crossing the whitewash but the try was disallowed after television replays showed that he gathered a forward pass from Allan before dotting down.
Shortly afterwards, Farrell slotted a penalty after Italy were blown up for illegal scrummaging. In the 52nd minute, Simmonds showed a superb turn of speed when he broke through a lineout on the edge of Italy’s 22 before crossing for his first Test try on his Six Nations debut.
Italy did not surrender, however, and five minutes later Mattia Bellini rounded off in the left-hand corner after his side took the ball through several phases in the build-up.
That would be the last time the visitors would score points, however, as England finished stronger during the game’s final quarter. That was largely due to their strength in depth coming off their replacements bench.
Late tries from Ford, Simmonds and Jack Nowell knocked the wind out of the home side’s sails and made the scoreline seem more flattering. But England head coach Eddie Jones will be satisfied that his team managed to secure a bonus-point win away from home in their tournament opener.
Tries: Benvenuti, Bellini
Tries: Watson 2, Farrell, Simmonds 2, Ford, Nowell
Cons: Farrell 4
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Renato Giammarioli, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda’, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Danny Care, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Jack Nowell
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)