|England: (20) 41|
|Tries: Hill, Watson 2, May, Willis, Daly; Pen: Farrell; Cons: Farrell 4|
|Italy: (8) 18|
|Tries: Ioane, Allan; Pens: Garbisi 2; Con: Garbisi|
England found flashes of attacking flair to bounce back from last weekend’s Scotland defeat and claim a six-try Six Nations win against Italy.
Monty Ioane’s early try caused a scare at Twickenham, before England’s Jonny Hill and Anthony Watson crossed.
Wing Jonny May closed out the first half in style, leaping out of a tackle to touch down in spectacular fashion.
After the break, Watson’s impressive intercept try sealed a bonus point for the defending champions.
Substitute back row Jack Willis scored from short range but was almost immediately carried off the pitch on a stretcher after sustaining a knee injury.
Replacement back Tommaso Allan added a second try for Italy before Elliot Daly crossed for England to seal victory and offer some solace to fans after last weekend’s unexpected loss.
England will now be hoping for a Wales win against Scotland or Irish victory over France in the weekend’s other two fixtures to get their title bid back on track.
Spectacular May try ends first half on a high
All the talk pre-match was about England needing to put in a performance as they looked to recover from a poor showing in defeat to Scotland, with a 28th consecutive win against Italy taken as a given.
Italy head coach Franco Smith is building for the future with a youthful team centred around 19-year-old scrum-half Stephen Varney and 20-year-old fly-half Paolo Garbisi.
England head coach Eddie Jones looked to have different plans, having dropped centre Ollie Lawrence for the game and avoided giving scrum-half Harry Randall or centre Paolo Odogwu a debut in the easiest of the Six Nations fixtures.
Initially it looked as though youth would win the day as, after a few phases of lively attack with Welsh-born Varney in the eye of the storm, the Italians took an unexpected lead.
Garbisi sent the ball left to full-back Jacopo Trulla, who drew in Daly to allow Ioane to cross in the left corner after just three minutes.
After the restart England looked woken from a slumber and they sped the ball left, but room for May on the left wing was wasted as Daly’s pass flew into touch.
Owen Farrell trimmed Italy’s lead to two with a penalty in front of the posts then centre Henry Slade entered the fray, keen to cement his place in Jones’ changing midfield.
His grubber kick was gathered by George Ford and Itoje took the ball to within metres of the tryline but eventually it was fellow lock Hill who went over from close range for his first international try.
England did not make any line breaks against Scotland last weekend and Watson looked fiercely motivated to single-handedly change that this time around, coming in from the wing on an angle to scythe through the wall of blue.
His efforts were wasted as hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie – starting in place of Jamie George – was penalised at the breakdown and Garbisi evened the scores.
Slade injected a bit of fire into the Twickenham chill once more as he chased his own kicks along the floor and across the tryline, but he did not manage to finish the job.
England did eventually get a second try as fast hands from May released Slade on the left wing, then the hosts hurried the ball to the opposite flank where Watson stepped past Varney to score.
And Jones’ side finished the half with aplomb as Daly found May with space on the left and the wing jumped over Luca Sperandio’s tackle for a spectacular touchdown to add to his already packed showreel.
Watson intercept adds to try tally
Italy had been beaten 50-10 by France in their opening game but were determined to keep themselves in this match as Garbisi’s cross-field kick found Ioane and the wing raced into England’s 22.
The visitors had to settle for a penalty, conceded by Itoje in front of the posts to give Italy’s fly-half an easy three points.
England had pace and intensity but their handling errors – which totalled 18 to Italy’s six by the end of the game – continued to grow and came from unusual sources with scrum-half Ben Youngs, May and Farrell all guilty.
Another moment of individual brilliance furthered their lead on the scoreboard though, as Watson intercepted Garbisi’s pass and covered three quarters of the pitch to score the bonus-point try.
Farrell – who had already served a five-match ban for a high tackle in September 2020 – was the subject of a television match official investigation for his contact on Varney, but fortunately for the already much-scrutinised England captain it was deemed to be safe.
Things continued to look up for the hosts as scrum-half Dan Robson – on as a replacement for Youngs – showed that being nine years senior to his opposite number Varney made him no less spritely as he took a quick penalty and raced up to within five metres of the tryline.
The forwards took on the job from there as Willis picked the ball up from the base of a ruck and scored. But the back row swooped immediately from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows as he was stretchered off with a knee injury – something which kept him out of the game for a whole season in 2018.
With the Twickenham weather hovering just above freezing, Italy caught England cold after the break in play and Federico Mori broke through the hosts’ defence to allow replacement Allan to score.
England responded immediately as Robson furthered his impact on the game with an impressive pass to Daly, who had plenty of room to run in the sixth and final try.
Man of the match: Anthony Watson
‘That was back to being us’ – what they said
England captain Owen Farrell told ITV Sport: “Not the best performance we have ever had but in terms of the energy and intent that was back to being us.
“We had some honest conversations in the week, and got things right on the training field. I thought we attacked the game, our intent was brilliant, we got in behind them, not everything went our way but we stuck at it.”
England prop Kyle Sinckler told ITV Sport: “It was a step in the right direction, we probably didn’t get the rewards we wanted but in terms of intent, and showing what it means to play for our country it was a step in the right direction.”
‘It was workmanlike’ – analysis
Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson said on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra: “England probably felt like they were a couple of tries short of a clinical performance – it was workmanlike.
“There are still inaccuracies and indiscipline. Knowing the standards they set, they will want to get back to the glory days of 2019. A seven out of 10 performance.”
World Cup-winning England scrum-half Natasha Hunt said on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra: “A huge improvement from last weekend, and also the intensity of what they’ve been doing, led by Anthony Watson.
“The penalty count will be something they definitely will look at next week. Against France, Ireland and Wales they need to get it down because they will punish you.”
England: Daly; Watson, Slade, Farrell (capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Hill, Lawes, Curry, B Vunipola.
Replacements: George, Genge, Stuart, Ewels, Earl, Willis, Robson, Malins.
Italy: Trulla; Sperandio, Brex, Canna, Ioane; Garbisi, Varney; Lovotti, Bigi (capt), Riccioni, Lazzaroni, Sisi, Negri, Meyer, Lamaro.
Replacements: Lucchesi, Fischetti, Zilocchi, Cannone, Ruzza, Palazzani, Allan, Mori.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)