Anthony Watson scored two tries as England returned to winning ways with a 41-18 Six Nations success against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
Reigning champions England ran in six tries in all after their try-less tournament-opening 11-6 defeat by Scotland last week – the Scots’ first win at Twickenham since 1983.
By contrast, England led 20-8 at half-time on Saturday, with Jonny Hill, Watson and Jonny May all scoring tries after Montanna Ioane had crossed to give the Azzurri a shock third-minute lead.
Watson’s breakaway effort early in the second half put the result beyond doubt before replacement Jack Willis, who later went off with a knee injury, and Elliot Daly added further tries.
This was Italy’s 29th successive Six Nations loss, a run stretching back to 2015, and meant they had been beaten in all 28 of their Tests against England.
But it was still a much-improved showing by the Azzurri, fresh from a humiliating 50-10 loss to France, and they defied all predictions by opening the scoring with Ioane’s third-minute try.
“That was back to being us,” England captain Owen Farrell told ITV Sport. “Not the best performance we have ever had but in terms of the feeling, energy and intent that was back to being us.
“We had some honest conversations in the week, and got things right on the training field. I thought we attacked the game, our intent was brilliant, we got in behind them, not everything went our way but we stuck at it.”
England coach Eddie Jones resisted the temptation to drop Farrell following a lacklustre Calcutta Cup showing but moved him to inside centre, with George Ford restored at fly-half as he reverted to a familiar 10-12 combination.
Seasoned props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola, returned from suspension and injury to form an all-new front row alongside hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie after England’s poor scrum showing against the Scots.
Italy strike first –
But it was Italy who took the lead after England again conceded an early penalty.
Azzurri No 8 Michele Lamaro gathered the ball off the deck, with scrum-half Stephen Varney’s quick, flat pass releasing half-back partner Paolo Garbisi, who went on the blindside.
A quick handling move saw full-back Jacopo Trulla send in left wing Ioane, the nephew of former Australia wing Digby Ioane, at the corner.
Garbisi missed the conversion and Farrell soon reduced the deficit with a close-range penalty.
When Italy lock David Sisi was penalised for a high tackle near his own posts, Farrell decided against kicking for goal, a move vindicated in the 14th minute when Exeter lock Hill was driven over for his first Test try.
Following Farrell’s missed conversion, Garbisi drew Italy level with a 20th-minute penalty.
After Ford’s high kick caused problems in the Italy defence, centre Henry Slade just lost the race for a touchdown as he went in search of a try.
But England, starting to get on top with man-of-the-match Sinckler leading the way up front, crossed Italy’s line for a second time when wing Watson went over in the 26th minute after a slick move involving recalled back-row Courtney Lawes and a flicked pass from May.
Farrell converted and England led 15-8.
An overthrown England line-out gave Italy the chance of an equalising try but a knock-on saw the chance squandered.
That error was compounded for Italy on the stroke of half-time when the acrobatic May leapt in high at the corner as he evaded opposing wing Luca Sperandio’s challenge before touching down for his 32nd try in 63 Tests.
Farrell missed the difficult conversion but England still had a comfortable lead.
Garbisi’s penalty soon after the break reduced England’s advantage to 20-11.
But hopes of an Italy revival were snuffed out when Watson intercepted Garbisi’s pass on the edge of England’s 22 before sprinting clear for a try.
And on the hour mark, Willis went over after replacement scrum-half Dan Robson’s 30-metre break caught Italy cold.
Willis, however, was taken off on a stretcher 16 minutes from time.
Italy replacement Tommaso Allan then scored a try only for full-back Daly to reply in kind.