Jonny May’s spectacular flying finish helped England bounce back in style from their Calcutta Cup defeat in Round 1 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations as they notched a convincing 41-18 victory over Italy at Twickenham.
While the reigning champions’ Grand Slam hopes may have been thwarted at the first hurdle, it won’t have escaped their notice that they still won the 2020 Guinness Six Nations despite a Round 1 loss to France and this impressive win could prove to be the first step to replicating that in 2021.
England’s disappointing start to their title defence against Scotland a week ago prompted some soul-searching ahead of the game and Italy’s flying start at Twickenham – as Monty Ioane crossed the whitewash inside three minutes – won’t have helped their mood.
However, the response to going behind will have delighted Eddie Jones as a much more free-flowing display, built on quick ball, saw Jonny Hill, Anthony Watson and May all dot down before half-time.
May’s score was his 32nd at international level and moved him into sole possession of second place on England’s all-time tries list behind only the great Rory Underwood (49).
Watson’s interception try after the break sealed the bonus point before Jack Willis powered over from close-range and although Tommaso Allan crossed for Italy, Elliot Daly rounded off the scoring for the hosts.
The result maintained England’s impeccable record against Italy and the Azzurri’s wait for a first-ever win at Twickenham goes on.
THE FULL MONTY
A bright start from Italy saw them take the lead within three minutes as an overlap on the left enabled Jacopo Trulla’s quick pass to free Ioane for a run-in to the corner.
Having made zero linebreaks and seeing their backs starved of possession in the Round 1 defeat to Scotland, England tried a different tactic in response to going behind – happily spreading the ball and playing a more expansive game.
It paid dividends as firstly a sustained spell of pressure ended with an Owen Farrell three-pointer before a try on 14 minutes, as they opted for a tap-and-go from a close-range penalty, and after a number of phases within inches of the Italian line, Hill burrowed over.
It was a first England try for the most internationally-inexperienced member of their starting XV but Farrell missed the conversion, enabling another tyro, Paolo Garbisi – the first man born in the 2000s to play in the Guinness Six Nations – to level things at 8-8 with a penalty shortly after.
England’s newfound expansive edge created a second try on 26 minutes as they spread the ball from one side to the other with May making yards down the left before they switched right and Watson cut inside an overcommitted Stephen Varney to score under the posts.
And May himself got England’s third try on the stroke of half-time with a simply sensational finish, leaping in the air a couple of metres out to avoid being pushed into touch by the covering defender before acrobatically grounding the ball.
ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON
Much like the first half, Italy flew out of the blocks in the second as Ioane made 40 metres down the left flank to move the Azzurri into the home 22, where they eventually earned a penalty that Garbisi slotted to narrow the deficit to 20-11.
Italy looked well-placed to add to their tally on 49 minutes as they went through the phases on the England 22 but Watson sniffed out a floated Garbisi pass intended for Seb Negri and raced 80 metres for the interception, bonus-point score.
That try seemed to snuff out any Azzurri hopes of a comeback win and England’s fifth came on the hour mark as scrum-half Dan Robson was stopped inches short of the line after a brilliant solo run but fellow replacement Willis powered over a couple of phases later.
Shortly after, Willis’s day came to a premature end as he was stretchered off in considerable pain with a nasty knee injury and following the lengthy break in play, Italy almost immediately got their second try as Federico Mori charged through and offloaded to Allan for the score.
But England responded as Maro Itoje won the turnover and Robson’s long miss-pass found Daly on the wing to touch down in the corner and complete the scoring.
May’s moment of athletic excellence could easily have been chosen here as it importantly stretched England’s lead before half-time but Watson’s 49th-minute score was the one that really put a dagger in Italy’s hopes of victory.
The Azzurri had slotted a penalty to narrow the gap to 20-11 and were in a promising position once again, looking threatening on the 22, but Watson used a combination of his rugby intelligence and searing pace to intercept Garbisi’s pass and race clear.
It sealed the bonus point and, at 27-11, there was no way back for the visitors as England’s impeccable record against Italy was maintained.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Anthony Watson and Jonny May impressed in the backs, while Luke Cowan-Dickie did likewise in the pack, but it was Kyle Sinckler who was named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match for an impressive all-round display.
Back from suspension, the prop was a carrying machine – toting the ball 11 times for 40 metres –helped England exert dominance at the scrum, didn’t miss a tackle and buzzed around the field hitting the breakdown with ferocious regularity.
He was part of an all-new England front row along with Cowan-Dickie and Mako Vunipola but they combined well as a trio to provide the platform for victory.