England returned to winning ways with a 31-14 win over Italy at Twickenham to earn Steve Borthwick his first win since becoming head coach.
Tries from Jack Willis, Ollie Chessum, Jamie George, a penalty try and Henry Arundell saw England bounce back with a bonus point, while Italy’s second half scores through Marco Riccioni and Alessandro Fusco keptthem within touching distance.
England had total dominance at the set piece, with three of their five tries coming directly from the driving maul.
There was a marked improvement from England’s defence, keeping Italy to nil in the first half, while the Azzurri’s continued progress was shown in the second half with two well worked tries of their own.
ENGLAND DOMINATE FIRST 40
It was England who had the better of the opening 15 minutes, but Italy’s defence remained resolute, forcing a stalemate in the opening phases.
England were dominant in the scrum, which they used to their advantage to gain territory and find themselves in good field position.
The Azzurri discipline was also beginning to cause them problems, and England, with a penalty on the 22-metre line opted to go for the corner after Luca Morisi was penalised at the breakdown.
There was little resistance to the England maul, and Jack Willis found himself over the line almost untouched for the first score of the game, which Owen Farrell converted to put England 7-0 up after 14 minutes.
They did not have to wait too long for their second, with Lorenzo Cannone sent to the sin bin for an infringement at the maul, and Ollie Chessum dived over for his first international try after an excellent offload from Ellis Genge.
Farrell converted again, and England’s forward dominance catapulted them into a 14-0 lead after half an hour.
England thought they had a third try five minutes later, when Max Malins sliced through the Italy defence and found Jack van Poortvliet who ran under the sticks, but that was brought back when Ollie Lawrence was judged to have obstructed Manuel Zuliani.
They did not have long to wait after that though, after referee James Doleman went back for an Italy infringement.
England opted for the corner again, and once again the Italy defence crumbled, and this time it was Jamie George who bundled over for England’s third try of the afternoon.
They searched for their fourth shortly before half time and came close when Van Poortvliet’s kick through found Farrell, but the England captain could not hold onto possession and England had to settle for a fairly comprehensive 19-0 lead at the break, with Italy barely entering England’s 22.
ITALY BOUNCE BACK BEFORE ARUNDELL FINISHES OFF PROCEEDINGS
Italy responded shortly after half-time with a brilliant try, with almost every single player touching it, and Ange Capuozzo in particular, having a big involvement, getting onto Federico Ruzza’s offload and almost stepping around Freddie Steward himself.
The phases kept coming, through Lorenzo Cannone, Stephen Varney and Ruzza again, and eventually it was Riccioni who found himself reaching out to finish a sensational passage of play from the away side and a truly fantastic start to the second half.
Once again though, England resorted to the maul, and Italy were again unable to prevent the home side from going over, with Simone Ferrari adjudged to have brought the maul down illegally and England awarded a penalty try to secure their bonus point – with Ferrari sent to the sin bin in the process.
Italy worked their way back into the game and came close to scoring one of the great Twickenham tries, a week after Duhan van der Merwe did the same.
Pierre Bruno managed to get his offload away to Capuozzo, who sprinted past Malins to find Varney, who was brought down just ten metres short by Ben Earl, and England subsequently turned the ball over.
But they did strike next, when Varney’s replacement Alessandro Fusco, barely onto the field, managed to squeeze through a gap between Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole after Tomasso Menoncello’s initial break and Italy suddenly trailed by just 12 points.
England returned to their favoured driving maul once again, but Italy had finally managed to get set defensively and stop England in their tracks.
But with so many defenders focused on the maul, a pair of England replacements combined for England’s fifth score, with Alex Mitchell breaking down the blindside to find Arundell who expertly finished into the corner to score England’s fifth try and put any possible comeback from Italy to bed in the process.