Six Nations: Italy 15-46 England

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer at the Stadio Olimpico
Six Nations
Italy (10) 15
Tries: Benvenuti, Bellini Con: Allan Pen: Allan
England (17) 46
Tries: Watson 2, Farrell, Simmonds 2, Ford, Nowell Cons: Farrell 4 Pen: Farrell

England started and finished in style as they overcame a spirited Italy to begin their Six Nations title defence with a seven-try romp.

Two early tries from Anthony Watson set Eddie Jones's men on their way, Owen Farrell adding another after Tommaso Benvenuti's inspired try had narrowed the gap.

Mattia Bellini's score in the corner midway through the second half meant Italy had fought back to within 12 points with 20 minutes to go.

But a brace from Six Nations debutant Sam Simmonds plus sweetly worked tries from George Ford and Jack Nowell allowed the reigning champions to pull away.

It means Jones's side have now won 23 of his 24 matches in charge, picking up a bonus point to match the achievements of their next opponents Wales the day before.

Conor O'Shea will have seen much to convince him his Italy side are improving in his second year, but it is still a 13th consecutive Six Nations defeat for the tournament's perennial strugglers.

Anthony Watson scores for England
Anthony Watson's first-half double set England on their way to victory in Rome

England accelerate from the blocks

In the corresponding fixture a year ago England had begun slowly, a flaw that dogged them throughout the championship, but here they began with pace and precision.

On three minutes Ben Te'o, starting at outside centre, crashed the ball up into the Italian midfield to create the space for Ford and Farrell to work a wrap-around on the Italian 22.

Ford sent May into space down the right and the left winger put Watson over in the corner.

The same combination brought dividends again eight minutes later, this time May crashing through one tackle before Watson handed off Tommaso Boni and bounced off Tommaso Benvenuti's no-arms tackle to touch down inside the corner flag once more.

Had Farrell not missed both conversions the damage to home morale would have been worse.

Instead Conor O'Shea's men responded impressively - Boni and Mattia Bellini combining at pace down the left wing, the forwards securing quick ball and fly-half Tomasso Allen firing a long pass over May to set Benvenuti free down the right.

Allen's conversion made it 10-7, only for England to hit back immediately. Danny Care, on early for the injured Ben Youngs, went down the blindside from a ruck 15 metres out and Ford, standing flat to the line, found Farrell on his outside shoulder for the inside-centre's sixth try for his country.

Italy had missed 10 tackles in the first 35 minutes, but with Allen landing a penalty late in the half were delighted to be only 17-10 down at the break.

Pacy Simmonds makes his mark

Sam Simmonds graphic
Number eight Sam Simmonds marked his Six Nations debut with a superb display. He was England's leading tackler - but the 23-year-old also made the most metres and clean breaks, beat the most defenders and made the joint-most carries, as well as matching Anthony Watson with two tries

Another slick backs move appeared to have brought them closer still early in the second half, only for the noisy home contingent in the Stadio Olympico to be silenced when Boni's try was ruled out for a forward pass from Allen.

Instead it was England who struck at the other end. Sam Simmonds was left alone off a driving maul to scamper unencumbered under the posts, and what might have been a three-point game was instead a 17-point lead.

Italy could have folded, but Bellini held off Mike Brown from another fine long mis-pass from Allen for a deserved second try.

This was a different Italy, an invention and cutting edge in the backs to match the traditional muscle up front.

And there was relief in the visitors' ranks when Ford put the game to bed when he ran on to Farrell's break to cross for England's fifth try.

Simmonds put the seal on it with a second try to mark his tournament debut, showcasing his acceleration and pace to scythe through a tired blue-shirted rearguard before the Exeter man's no-look pass put his club team-mate Nowell away for one his own at the death.

Man of the match: Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell slices through the Italy defence
For all the talk of Ben Te'o's selection - and Sam Simmonds' impact - it was England inside centre Farrell whose breaks and passing were the catalyst for his side's victory

Italy: Minozzi; Benvenuti, Boni, Castello, Bellini; Allan, Violi; Lovotti, Ghiraldini, Ferrari, Zanni, Budd, Negri, Giammarioli, Parisse.

Replacements: Hayward for Castello (73), Canna for Allan (73), Gori for Violi (63), Quaglio for Lovotti (41), Bigi for Ghiraldini (54), Pasquali for Ferrari (54), Biagi for Budd (61), Mbanada for Giammarioli (50).

England: Brown; Watson, Te'o, Farrell, May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmonds.

Replacements: Nowell for Brown (61), Joseph for Te'o (59), Care for Youngs (10), Hepburn for Vunipola (73), George for Hartley (54), Williams for Cole (54), Kruis for Lawes (59), Underhill for Robshaw (67).

Six Nations table
Match stats
4 (2)Scrums won (lost)6 (0)
10 (0)Line-outs won (lost)13 (1)
12Pens conceded9
108 (3)Rucks/mauls won (lost)88 (3)
24Kicks from hand31
107 (25)Tackles made (missed)163 (14)
334Metres made469
6Line breaks9


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