- Italy - Tries: Benvenuti, Bellini Cons: Allan Pens: Allan
- England - Tries: Watson 2, Farrell, Ford, Simmonds (2), Nowell Cons: Farrell 4 Pens: Farrell
England got the defence of their NatWest 6 Nations title off to a winning start with a seven-try bonus-point 46-15 victory over Italy in Rome.
Eddie Jones’ side had a seven-point lead at half-time courtesy of an Anthony Watson brace and one for Owen Farrell - which he also converted.
Italy responded through Tommaso Benvenuti’s try which Tommaso Allan converted along with a penalty before the break.
Second-half converted tries from Sam Simmonds and George Ford, as well as Farrell’s penalty, helped secure the bonus point and although Italy did respond through Mattia Bellini’s try, further scores from the Exeter flanker and his club team mate Jack Nowell gave England a comfortable victory.
Fast start and an early blow
It was not quite as quick as Jonathan Joseph’s effort against Scotland (2min 16s), but England made a blistering start in Rome with Watson scoring inside three minutes.
He went over in the corner after a scrum penalty was kicked to the 22m and from the resulting lineout a superbly executed move by England’s three-quarters put the Bath wing in for a 13th international score.
Ben Youngs overtook Matt Dawson’s record of most starts for an England halfback, but his game was ended early by a knee injury. He was replaced by Danny Care who, in turn, equalled Dawson for most caps as a scrum half (77) and despite the change England’s fluency continued.
A minute later Watson had his second try with Ford linking up with Jonny May to sear through midfield before releasing his fellow wing to superbly dive over in the corner.
Despite being 10-0 down inside 11 minutes, Italy fought back in Rome.
They were back in the game with Benvenuti going in on the on the right wing, having gone from touchline to touchline to find space and penetrate England’s narrow defence and Allan converted.
Ford and Farrell linked up to send the Saracens man over, but explosive carrying from forwards Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola earlier created the space for England’s backs to scythe through.
Italy ended the half strongly though and were back within seven points through Allan’s penalty after a spell of incessant pressure on England’s tryline.
Watson came close to a hat trick but a forward pass ended any possibility of a try but from the resulting scrum Italy’s forwards were penalised and Farrell slotted the kick.
Italy broke England’s defensive line for Tommaso Boni to cross, however, it was ruled out for an earlier forward pass and minutes later Jones’ side had a bonus point.
Successive penalties took England to Italy’s 22m and from the lineout Simmonds showed his trademark blistering pace to peel off the back of the maul and outpace the home defence to score his first try on his NatWest 6 Nations debut.
Back came Italy though and Bellini squeezed over in the corner, holding off the tackle of Mike Brown to dot down.
Sam Underhill came on for his tournament debut as England lost a lineout on Italy’s 5m line missing out on a chance to extend their lead however, a minute late Farrell and Ford linked up, and having hit a fine line through the home defence, the Leicester fly-half scored a fifth try.
Alec Hepburn was introduced for his international debut and Simmonds again showed exception pace to fly through for his second try of the match.
Replacement Nowell flew over in the corner for 46-15 to give England an impressive start to the tournament with Wales next up for Jones’ side.
Farrell pleased with display
Speaking after the game, Owen Farrell said he was pleased with how his side started their campaign.
“It is good that we built throughout the game, we felt like we were getting better and better,” said Farrell.
“There are certainly some things to fix up from that first half and we’ll go away and do that. It is a good start to the campaign, we need to make sure we go away and work hard for next week.”
Farrell also praised the display of Simmonds. “I thought he [Simmonds] was brilliant throughout. He’s very quick and very powerful and he’s an honest, hard-working lad.”
Italy: Minozzi; Benvenuti, Boni, Castello, Bellini; Allan, Violi; Lovotti, Ghiraldini, Ferrari, Zanni, Budd, Negri, Giammarioli, Parisse
Replacements: Bigi, Quaglio, Pasquali, Biagi, Mbanda, Gori, Canna, Hayward
England: Brown; Watson, Te'o, Farrell, May; Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmonds
Replacements: George, Hepburn, Williams, Kruis, Underhill, Care, Joseph, Nowell