England’s bid to make history in 2018 by clinching a hat-trick of Six Nations titles got off to a fine start as they ran in seven tries for a 46-15 victory against Italy in Rome on Sunday night.
Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds each crossed for two tries but Eddie Jones’ side did not have it all their own way in the Stadio Olimpico.
The Italians refused to surrender and try-scorers Tommaso Benvenuti and Mattia Bellini proved that England’s defence was not impregnable.
But Owen Farrell, who finished the game with a personal haul of 16 points, crossed for England’s third before the break and Simmonds secured the bonus point after the restart.
Bellini’s second-half score gave Conor O’Shea’s side hope, but in the final quarter England added gloss to the scoreline as George Ford went over before Simmonds sped away for a second and set up Nowell for their seventh.
England have never lost in 23 Tests against Italy and the defending Six Nations champions struck first.
The ball was worked off the top of an attacking lineout to Ben Te’o who broke the gainline before George Ford combined with Farrell and Jonny May to release Watson who coasted over.
Farrell’s conversion hit the post and there was more bad news for England soon after as Ben Youngs was stretchered off with what looked like a serious knee injury.
Danny Care joined the fray and England’s second try did not take long in coming, May made the initial incision off his left wing before feeding Watson who did the rest, rounding Tommaso Boni and finishing in style for his second.
Again Farrell could not add the extras but at 10-0, Italy needed the next score to gain a foothold.
And it duly arrived when Bellini got free down the left to turn the English defence before the ball was spread right and a gorgeous Tommaso Allan pass hit Benvenuti in stride.
Allan was on target with his conversion and at 10-7, England did not have the lead that their dominance probably deserved.
However, it soon arrived as the visitors’ attack continued to click. Nice interplay down the right between Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole made inroads before Farrell darted over down the left.
The inside centre this time converted his own score for a 17-7 lead but just before the break the Azzurri did trim their deficit with an Allan penalty.
The second half began in equally thrilling fashion, Watson denied a hat-trick at one end by a marginal forward pass and Tommaso Boni the same at the other.
In between those two incidents, Farrell kicked another penalty to make it 20-10 and the fourth England try and a bonus point was not far away – Simmonds the scorer as the No.8 burst through a hole from a maul to dart over.
Farrell converted but Italy, with Boni and Tommaso Castello willing runners throughout, kept coming and Bellini did extremely well to finish their second try in the left corner.
Allan could not convert and as the game entered the final quarter, England were 27-15 to the good.
Both sides were beginning to empty their benches, most notably England introducing Jack Nowell on the wing as Watson shifted to fullback.
And the defending champions’ fifth try arrived in the 68th minute, Farrell again the creator on a perfect line to make the break before feeding Ford back on the inside.
In the final ten minutes the England finishers started to make an impact against a tiring Azzurri defence – first Simmonds burst clear for his second before the No 8 then released Nowell for England’s seventh.
Tries: Benvenuti, Bellini
Tries: Watson 2, Farrell, Simmonds 2, Ford, Nowell
Cons: Farrell 4
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Renato Giammarioli, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda’, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Danny Care, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Jack Nowell
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)