NEWCASTLE – A mix and match England team overcame a patchy start to run in four second-half tries and finish their World Cup preparations with a healthy 37-0 victory over Italy at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park ground on Friday.
With various new combinations and several key men sitting out the game, England were restricted to three Owen Farrell penalties in the first half as Italy defended with gusto and even threatened a try on a couple of occasions.
It was one-way traffic in the second half though as Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, impressive replacement prop Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson all crossed.
England fly out to Japan on Sunday, beginning their campaign against Tonga on Sept. 22, and will travel in good heart with wins against Wales, Ireland and Italy under their belt – along with a narrow defeat by Warren Gatland’s Welsh side.
England thrashed Italy 57-14 in the Six Nations in March and have now won all 26 of the teams’ meetings – this one though being the first time they have kept them scoreless.
There was not much for the Italians to take from the game, where they competed bravely but were just outclassed in too many areas, particularly when England threw some heavyweight replacements into the fray.
“After last week against France that was a massive step up for us and we’re pretty happy with our physical performance in that first half,” said Italy captain Dean Budd.
His team start in the World Cup against Namibia, but with New Zealand and South Africa also in their pool, their chances of making the quarter-finals for the first time look extremely slim.
On Friday they certainly upped the intensity from when they were brushed aside by France a week ago and, combined with handling errors and over-elaboration by England, restricted the hosts to a 9-0 halftime lead and few scoring chances.
The frustrated Newcastle crowd finally got a try to cheer after Genge blasted through to set up scrumhalf Youngs for something of a “quarterback sneak” five minutes after the restart.
Centre Marchant, who is not in the World Cup squad, showed a great burst of acceleration to blast through for the second – and with Henry Slade still injured, he could yet play a part in Japan.
England’s attacking rolling maul has been generally ineffective over the last few weeks but they got it right in the 67th minute to force Genge over for his first international try.
Watson showed enough in a rare outing at fullback to reassure Jones that he provides a more than capable back-up to or replacement for usual 15 Elliot Daly and capped a good display by bursting into the line for the fourth try as Italy wilted in the face of relentless attacks.
That completed a satisfying night for Eddie Jones, who would have been delighted by props Genge and Sinckler – both thrown in after 33 minutes and who brought youthful dynamism mixed with raw aggression.
Billy Vunipola, who has played in all four warm-ups, came through 60 minutes unscathed with Jones saying the big number eight, known as a somewhat reluctant trainer, needs maximum game time to get to optimum fitness, while Courtney Lawes gave a reminder of his value as he constantly disrupted the Italian lineout.
“As a team, we have been pretty good for the last four weeks,” said man of the match Youngs.
“Physically the team are in great shape. We tried to play upbeat tonight but it was hard and it didn’t go all our way and we had to figure it out.
We had a good debrief at halftime and came out much better.”