By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – England ran in eight tries as they outclassed and overpowered Italy 57-14 at Twickenham on Saturday to stay in the hunt for the Six Nations title going into next week’s final round of fixtures.
England were in total control throughout as tries by Jamie George, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields had the bonus point in the bag and a 31-7 lead by halftime, with Tommaso Allan grabbing the visitors’ lone score.
Tuilagi, whose last international try came against Italy five years ago, added his second after the break, with lock George Kruis, replacement scrumhalf Dan Robson and Shields also crossing.
After their 18-11 win over Scotland, Wales top the standings with 16 points, but no bonus points. England have 15 and a massive points-difference advantage over the Welsh and Ireland, who are third on nine points ahead of their home game against France on Sunday.
If Wales beat Ireland next week they will complete the Grand Slam but a defeat would mean an England victory over Scotland in the final game of “Super Saturday” at Twickenham, where the Scots have not won for 36 years, would be enough to lift the title unless Ireland rack up two huge bonus-point wins.
Italy host France next week already assured of finishing last for the fourth season in a row after Saturday’s 21st successive defeat in the competition and their 25th in 25 meetings with England.
Last time they came to Twickenham two years ago Italy had England in trouble via their “no-ruck” tactic but they had no tricks and precious little regulation play in a one-sided contest as England bounced back with gusto after their chastening loss in Cardiff.
Winger Joe Cokanasiga showed he is not all about bulk with a brilliant catch and round the back offload in the first minute and a run carrying the ball in one giant hand as if it were a tennis ball.
But it was a more pragmatic shove by the pack that sent George over for the opening try.
Italy barely touched the ball in the first 10 minutes but scored as soon as they did as flyhalf Tommaso Allan dummied his way past Ben Youngs.
England hit straight back when a scything run by Elliot Daly through three defenders set up May for his fifth try in this season’s Six Nations.
Tuilagi brushed past Angelo Esposito and Michele Campagnaro, and the centre’s sharp break sent flanker Shields over to secure the bonus point with 32 minutes on the clock.
Owen Farrell converted all of them, and added a penalty, as England reached the break 31-7 up.
A searing run by Cokanasiga, quickly establishing himself as a crowd favourite after four appearances, and a 25-metre pass by hooker George set up Tuilagi for his second try.
Centre Luca Morisi grabbed a second for Italy as the game became scrappy amid the usual substitutions, and scrumhalf Robson was finally given a decent run-out for his second cap after an hour.
England finished strongly as lock Kruis charged down fullback Jayden Hayward’s clearance kick and collected the ball for the sixth try and Robson got the seventh after more good work by Daly and man-of-the-match Cokanasiga.
“I wanted to get my hands on the ball as soon as I could, and that’s what happened,” Cokanasiga said.
“We are trying to bring more to the game than size or power – a bit of flair as well. I just wanted to take this opportunity with both hands. This gives us good confidence, a chance to build and that’s what we want to do.”
Another Kruis chargedown enabled Shields to end the action with his second score.
It was all somewhat predictable for England but next week could be a whole lot more exciting if Ireland can do them a favour in Cardiff.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)