Image: Rugby Union – Six Nations Championship – Italy vs England – Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy – February 4, 2018 England’s Anthony Watson runs in to score their second try REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
ROME (Reuters) – England scored seven tries on the way to an emphatic 46-15 win away to Italy as they began the defence of their Six Nations title in style on Sunday.
Winger Anthony Watson got England off to a flying start with two early tries and number eight Sam Simmonds also bagged two. Flyhalf Owen Farrell, George Ford and Jack Nowell added one apiece and Farrell kicked four conversions and a penalty.
The score was harsh on Italy who resisted bravely until a flurry of England tries in the closing minutes.
The winners of the last two wooden spoons were refreshingly positive and replied with two tries of their own from Tommaso Benvenuti and Mattia Bellini with Tommaso Allan kicking a conversion and penalty.
England, who have won all 24 games against Italy, lost scrumhalf Ben Youngs in the first half when he suffered a knee injury.
“They played exceptionally well,” England head coach Eddie Jones said. “It was a tough game of rugby but we ran away with it in the end.
“We let them into the game a bit with individual discipline lapses but, in general, everything was positive.”
Watson finished off two flowing moves in the first 10 minutes as England took quick control but Italy reduced the arrears with a superb effort when Allen’s looping pass set up Benvenuti for a converted try.
England went in with a 17-10 halftime lead after Farrell scored and converted a try and Allan replied with a penalty for Italy.
Italy’s Tommaso Boni had a try chalked off for a forward pass following a video review early in the second half.
Simmonds then raced away to scored England’s fourth try although Italy, who lost 10 out of 11 matches last year, continued to cause trouble and again reduced the arrears as Bellini forced his way past Mike Brown to score in the corner.
The referee confirmed the points after the video replay showed Bellini just stayed inside the touchline.
But England floored the hosts with three quick tries in the closing minutes from Ford, Simmonds and Nowell to seal an emphatic victory.
“It felt like they were spending time in our half early on, they put some press on us. But our lads held out and we built and built,” Farrell said.
“Simmonds was brilliant. He’s quick and powerful and we’re pleased to have him in our squad.”
Italy coach Conor O’Shea was encouraged by his team’s performance.
“We played some excellent rugby and contributed to an entertaining game, but I’m proud and annoyed,” he said.
“It will be another statistic in the book but anyone here today could see what we were trying to do. We know we’re off in certain areas and the progress we need to make. But we’re making it.”
“What they saw out there was a team playing competitive rugby with more to come.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Ed Osmond)