Six Nations 2015: Three talking points as England outclass Italy
Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson shine again as England fight off a slow start at Twickenham to beat Italy 47-17
Joseph and Watson shine again
A World Cup year is about hope. Last week, that was personified in the shapes, and indeed the tries, of Bath pair Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph. But the presence of Danny Cipriani on the bench, both against Wales and again today, should serve as a reminder of how easily hope can be extinguished. The Cipriani that took a place among the replacements today is not the same Cipriani who briefly lit up the English back line before being steamrollered by South Africa in 2008. Now, he is an older (and one hopes wiser) man, while Watson and Joseph, fresh-faced and fleet-footed, are the new coming forces. But sport is not just unforgiving, it is unceasingly demanding. It is Cristiano Ronaldo being whistled by Real Madrid fans after a mere three goals in six games. So the pressure was on Watson and Joseph today. We’ve seen what you can do. Now go and do it again. And do you know what? They did. First, there was a lovely side-step – dare we mention Jason Robinson? – from Watson 15 minutes in to give England field position. Then, another superb piece of footwork and thinking from Joseph as the half hour approached. After skipping one tackle, he was buccaneering forward, but with plenty still to do. Then, just like last week, all of a sudden there was a gap. We have seen more than enough examples of England teams running up against brick walls, not least in recent years against the Italians, to know that it is never that easy. Try number two in the second half showcased his searing pace – this boy is something special.
England shake off another slow start
Victory over Wales last week was a good win – a very good win – for England. It saw young talent come through, particularly in the form of Joseph, it saw back-ups step up, and it was a tough victory from behind in a typically hostile atmosphere. But there are good wins and there are important wins. For the home side, last week’s former needed to back up by today’s latter. To borrow a term that has come into football parlance, defeat to Italy today – with the home side finding themselves 200 to 1 on favourites before the game – would have been seriously Spursy. And again, like against the Welsh, they made it difficult for themselves. The pass back for the clearing kick after Italy’s opening kick-off bounced nervously behind England’s line; by the fourth minute, Luca Morisi was barrelling through two tackles following a stolen line-out before the ball came to Sergio Parisse to squirrel over. With the Azzurri backs effervescent in the opening exchanges, yet more holes appeared twelve minutes in and the Red Rose were a knock on away from staring at another early 10-0 deficit. It was the forwards again who started the renaissance, earning a penalty from a strong scrum with their backs to the line; and Billy Vunipola who bundled over – just – after 25 minutes to give England the lead. It took Joseph’s moment of magic and some errant kicking from Haimona for the home side to establish a cushion, and there was more than one half-intercepted pass after that. For all the party atmosphere that went round Twickenham as the gap widened in the second half, England will need to stay tighter than this when the autumn comes around.
Six Nations opens up for the Red Rose
With two home games to round off the tournament, England will have high hopes of taking this year’s Six Nations title, and ending a three year run of second placed finishes. It will not have escaped Stuart Lancaster’s notice that the last two of those have been decided by points difference, the Red Rose falling 40 points short of Wales in 2013 and then ten shy of Ireland last year. With the Irish having picked up a comfortable but not comprehensive victory against the Italians last time out, the onus was on England to rack up a score today. For a sizeable chunk of the game, though, that looked like it might prove difficult – for all their effort, the score was just 15-5 at half time, and then 18-10 ten minutes into the second period. But as Italy tired, England cut loose. Ben Youngs caught the Azzurri napping in front of their line before Danny Cipriani claimed a fairy-tale of a try within a minute of coming on to replace George Ford, and then Nick Easter smuggled his way over to turn it into a rout. With the Irish facing France before hosting the Red Rose in the next round, England have lain down a marker.