England kept up their end of the bargain as they ensured their Guinness Six Nations challenge remains alive going into the final weekend with a 57-14 victory over Italy at Twickenham.
With Wales still on course for the Grand Slam after surviving a scare against Scotland earlier in the day, Eddie Jones’ men knew they needed to deliver against the Azzurri.
And they duly obliged as braces from Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields, plus tries from Jamie George, Jonny May, George Kruis and Dan Robson, saw the Red Rose bounce back in style from their defeat in Cardiff.
Tries in either half from Tommaso Allan and Luca Morisi kept Italy in touch, but it was not enough to prevent England from maintaining their unbeaten record against the visitors.
The bonus-point triumph means England trail Wales by one point in the Championship, with all eyes now turning to Super Saturday and a meeting with Scotland.
AMBITION FROM THE OFF
The hosts showed their ambition from the first whistle as Owen Farrell lifted a clever kick over the Italian defensive line for Bath winger Joe Cokanasiga.
He rose highest to claim the ball with one hand before attempting an audacious mid-air offload to the waiting Tom Curry, who was unable to gather the ball.
Cokanasiga was again involved in the next attack, receiving a long, looping pass from Elliot Daly and surging towards the Azzurri defence at pace.
While he was brought down just short of the line, the ball was recycled and switched to the left flank where Curry was able to cross the line – only for the try to be ruled out for a forward pass.
The pressure on the visitors was relentless, though, and they eventually cracked on eight minutes as George proved the beneficiary of a driving maul, with Farrell converting.
Italy returned fire with their first attack of the game and levelled the scores through Allan, who slipped through the England defence and held off Ben Youngs to dot down.
Conor O’Shea’s men only had parity for a minute before May continued his try-scoring exploits after being released down the wing by Daly, with Farrell adding the extras again.
With their advantage restored, England continued to probe and scored their third try on 21 minutes, with Tuilagi scoring his first in a Red Rose shirt since 2014.
Moved to outside centre having spent the previous three games at 12, the Leicester Tigers man fended off Angelo Esposito and Michele Campagnaro before racing in from halfway.
Farrell pressed home England’s advantage with a penalty soon after to stretch the lead to 24-7 before the hosts bagged their bonus-point try with half an hour gone.
This time Tuilagi turned provider, swerving Allan and feeding the onrushing Brad Shields on his inside, with the flanker able to canter over for his first Test try.
Farrell maintained his perfect record from the tee to ensure England went into the break with a 31-7 advantage, leaving Italy with a mountain to climb to get back into the contest.
TUILAGI AT THE DOUBLE
The second half started much like the first. An explosive burst from Cokanasiga through the middle saw off three Italian tacklers before he was hauled down.
Youngs recycled the ball back to Farrell, who fainted a pass to left before spreading the ball right, where Tuilagi was waiting on the wing to stroll across for his second of the game.
But as they had done earlier, Italy hit back immediately through Morisi, who dived over in the corner on 53 minutes after the visitors set up camp on the England 5m line.
A raft of changes gave England fresh impetus around the hour mark and they added a further two tries to their tally through Kruis and Robson, who took over scrum-half duties from Youngs.
Kruis created his score through his own endeavour, charging down full-back Jayden Hayward’s clearing kick to score under the posts, with replacement fly-half George Ford converting.
A Daly break then provided the platform for England’s seventh, with Cokanasiga once again providing the assist after charging up the flank and drawing his man before releasing Robson for his first international try.
Ford’s conversion brought up the half-century for England, but Italy showed plenty of fight as Federico Ruzza broke upfield before Nathan Hughes conceded a penalty for a high tackle.
Italy kicked for the corner and battered away at the hosts’ defensive line, with Allan almost slipping through a gap for his second score, however England remained resolute and turned the ball over.
Shields then completed the scoring with his second of the game in the closing minutes, collecting the ball and diving over the line following Kruis’ second charge down of the afternoon.
The result leaves the Championship perfectly poised going into the final weekend. England need Grand Slam-chasing Wales to lose to Ireland before beating Scotland if they are to clinch the title.
WHAT THEY SAID
England head coach Eddie Jones said: “It was a good response after Wales. We left a bit out there, there’s a bit disappointment with certain aspects but we are looking forward to Scotland.
“We used the whole 23, we could have used the finishers better against Wales, and that was my fault, but they all made a contribution.
“Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi are good players, and Joe Cokanasiga is only going to improve. We are so blessed to have Brad Shields and Mark Wilson who can play six, there is great competition for places for next week.
“Next week will be like a grand final, it’ll be exciting. We cannot control what happens in the other game, but we can control what happens against Scotland. We’ll have a couple of days off, but then get into it on Monday.”
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea said: “It was difficult. That was an incredibly powerful England performance. We tried to play and we created a lot when we had the opportunity, but there was too much power out there.
“I’m immensely proud of all of these boys because they never stopped trying. We’ll reset easily before France. We’ll see what we’ve got in terms of players upright.
“What you saw out there was a lot of people who played until the end. I wouldn’t get too carried away with the scoreline against us.
“It was straight one-on-one tackles that cost us dearly but there were some individuals who put in an incredible shift for us.”
After a quiet game in the defeat to Wales in Cardiff, Manu Tuilagi provided a timely reminder of his incredible talent against Italy as he all-but sealed victory for the hosts before half-time with a charge to the line from inside his own half.
He nonchalantly saw off the challenges of Esposito and Campagnaro before galloping towards the line at speed to score his first England try in five years – with the last one also coming against Italy.
Tuilagi then repeated the trick moments later as side-stepped Tommaso Allan and burst through another gap to set up Brad Shields for his first try as the hosts took an unassailable lead into the break.
There was a lot of expectation on Joe Cokanasiga ahead of his first Championship start and he certainly lived up to his billing as the monster winger thrilled every time he got on the ball.
If he was experiencing any pre-match nerves, the Bath Rugby star did not show them as he demonstrated his skill with a brilliant offload to Tom Curry in the opening minute.
And despite failing to cross the whitewash himself, he laid on opportunities galore for his teammates, making over 100m with ball in hand and beating four defenders in the process.