England makes it two wins from two with a devastating second-half performance
Eddie Jones men could still win the Grand Slam
An Owen Farrell penalty combined with eight points from George Ford gave England an 11-9 lead at the break
Three penalties from Carlo Canna kept the Italians in the contest
A second-half hat-trick from Jonathan Joseph plus a touchdown from Farrell secured the comfortable victory for the men in white
Jonathan Joseph scored a superb second-half hat-trick as England overwhelmed Italy in Rome to return to the summit of the Six Nations standings on Sunday.
The men in white, who edged to a narrow win against Scotland in Edinburgh last weekend, made equally tough work of overcoming the Azzurri during the opening 40 but dotted down four second-half tries to keep their hopes of a 13th Grand Slam alive, which would be their first since 2003.
Eddie Jones, England head coach, had wanted his side to inflict a Valentines Day massacre on the Italians, but it remained anybody’s contest at the break as the visitors led 11-9 thanks to an Owen Farrell penalty combined with eight points from George Ford, which included the games opening try.
England, who had won all 21 of the pair’s previous meetings before today, were put under severe pressure at times during in the opening 40 as three penalties from Carlo Canna kept the Azzurri within touching distance.
The Italians even started the second period equally fired up, but a quickfire brace from Jonathan Joseph, both converted by Farrell, opened up a 25-9 lead for the away side, who were finally starting to play with some confidence following the introduction of Joe Marler and debutant Maro Itoje from the bench.
Joseph then completed his treble as England turned on style before Farrell dotted down try number five soon after to complete the impressive 40-9 victory for the men in white ahead of their clash with Ireland at Twickenham in a fortnight’s time.
Italy rattled England early on with some fast, free-flowing rugby, spearheaded by Parisse, but the hosts eventually settled for a penalty, meaning they took a three-point lead after eight minutes as Canna curled his kick between the posts from a difficult angle.
The visitors though offered an immediate response, winning a penalty at the scrum two minutes later with Farrell, who once again was deployed in the midfield, slotted confidently to level up the scores, 3-3.
England then established some control with Ford, who took over kicking duties while Farrell was off having an HIA, nailing a kick from in front of the posts after 16 minutes to give Jones’ men the lead for the first time.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts turn to make an instant reply as Canna, who missed a drop goal attempt moments earlier when Italy had the advantage, made no mistake with his second kick from the tee to draw the Azzurri level, 6-6.
England though then went onto to open the try-scoring after 24 minutes through Ford. Ferocious rucking by Brown saw the ball hacked forward and after England turned the ball over it was slickly swept out wide where the fly-half finished superbly in the corner. Farrell’s conversion attempt hit the post and bounced away as the visitors opened up a five-point advantage, 6-11.
Canna reduced the gap going into halftime to just two points with his third penalty of the opening 40.
An energetic start to the second half saw Italy continue with real energy and determination to their game but a misplaced pass after 52 minutes was superbly intercepted by Joseph on the edge of the hosts 22 with the centre able to run in unchallenged to finish under the posts for the England’s second try. Farrell then sent over the simple conversion, 9-18.
Joseph, whose selection was somewhat questioned due to his unimpressive form so far this season with Bath, displayed why Jones had put faith in him when he dotted down his second score six minutes later after. The ball was cleared out to him following a strong rolling maul with the centre finishing again under the posts. Farrell again converted to extend England’s lead to 16 points.
Farrell added another three points, which took him beyond Rob Andrew’s championship points tally, after 62 minutes to put the away side out of sight, 9-28.
Joseph then scored his third to complete his treble. Good line speed from George Kruis forced Italy to spill possession. The ball was then shifted out to the left wing, where Joseph dummied his way inside before showing great power to ground the ball over the line. Farrell this time though could not convert.
Try number five soon followed as replacement Jamie George offloaded to Saracens’ teammate Farrell, who finished under the posts before adding the extras himself, 8-40.
MAN OF THE MATCH
England: Jonathan Joseph/Owen Farrell
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Andrea Pratichetti
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Maro Itoje, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Alex Goode
Date: Sunday, February 14
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)