A hat-trick of second-half tries from Bath centre Jonathan Joseph capped a dominant performance from England as the World Cup flops kept their Six Nations Grand Slam on track with a 40-9 dismantling of Italy on Sunday.
England, who failed to make it out of the group stages of last autumn’s rugby showpiece on home soil, began their Six Nations campaign with a battling 15-9 win over Scotland in Edinburgh last week.
It prompted new England coach Eddie Jones to demand a ‘smacking’ of the tournament’s perennial underachievers.
Yet England were unconvincing before the interval, although George Ford’s 29th minute try gave the visitors an 11-9 lead as Carlo Canna hit three penalties for the hosts.
Indeed, it took until midway through the second period, when Italy’s errors began piling up, and later in the game, when Italy completely collapsed, for England to pile on the points.
Fresh from an inspirational 23-21 defeat to France in Paris, Italy proved resilient in a battling first-half in which they did well to make up for the loss of three players due to injury.
Gonzalo Garcia and Alessandro Zanni followed Marco Fuser in limping off prematurely but despite the losses, Italy dug in.
Canna, who made a positive impression on his Six Nations debut last week, stepped up to curl a penalty through the middle of the posts in the opening minutes.
England levelled soon after thanks to Owen Farrell’s 12th minute penalty from just inside Italy’s 22 following a knock-on at the lineout.
Farrell was sent off to receive treatment after a crushing hit by Garcia, the centre returning to the fray after Canna hit his second penalty to level for the hosts shortly after George Ford had given England a brief 6-3 lead.
Italy called on Garcia’s long-range kicking skills for a penalty that was 40 metres out on the right, but the big centre’s effort was off target.
It proved a costly miss, with Ford touching down near the left corner flag minutes later after England recycled the ball brilliantly through Ben Youngs.
Italy suffered a blow when Garcia limped off seven minutes before the interval, moments after his grubber kick had helped push them into England’s 22.
But the hosts were able to reduce the arrears to 11-9 when Canna hit his third penalty after a high tackle by Youngs.
England looked on their way to a second try on the cusp of half-time when the ball was worked out to Jack Nowell, but the Azzurri defence held firm.
Jones had kept six forwards on his replacements bench with the plan of a second-half onslaught.
It duly came, but was in large part thanks to a near general collapse of Italy’s defensive game.
England were lucky to avoid a yellow card when James Hasekll tackled Luke McLean as the full back leapt to catch the ball in mid-air.
Jones immediately replaced Youngs with Danny Care, and moments later Canna missed a crucial chance for a one-point lead by hitting his penalty wide.
Italy were still holding their own but the game turned on Leonardo Sarto’s ambitious pass to Luke McLean. With Joseph lurking, it was naive and the England centre intercepted to run in for the try.
Jones replaced Haskell with Maro Itoje for his England debut, and the fresh legs paid dividends.
Joseph had his second try when he ran on to Care’s grubber, with Farrell’s conversion taking the score to 25-9.
Farrell added another three points with a penalty from distance and further tries from Joseph and Farrell rounded off a forgettable day of rugby for the Azzurri. – Agence France-Presse