Leicester Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs put in a man-of-the-match performance as England powered past Italy in their final match before jetting off to Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
Three first-half penalties put England ahead at the break following a cagey first half, but four second-half scores – including a first international try for Ellis Genge – saw England home 37 points to nil.
The game was the first England Test to be played at Newcastle United’s home stadium of St James’ Park, with five of Tigers’ six England men named in Eddie Jones’ matchday squad, and Dan Cole, Ben Youngs and Jonny May all in the starting XV.
An early surge from May down the left wing stirred the northern crowd in the opening moments, with the Leicester wing pulled down just metres from the line. Though they saved a try, Italy were pinged at the breakdown as the ball came back inside, and Owen Farrell duly slotted the kick for the first points of the match.
Italy responded with significant pressure in England’s 22, and would have been over the line at the 11-minute mark if not for an on-the-line snatch by May, who just about managed to dislodge the ball from the grasp of centre Tommaso Benvenuti.
The England and Leicester wing was soon back to his aerial best, first pouncing on a wayward box kick from Italy scrum-half Callum Braley before claiming a clever cross field kick courtesy of England captain Farrell. But the Azzurri line held strong, and it was soon up to Farrell to try from the tee once more, pinning the scores at 6-0 with around a quarter of the match gone.
The remainder of the first half served as a decent defensive workout for Eddie Jones’ men, with Italy enjoying the lions’ share of possession but seemingly not able to break the England line.
The home side did manage to string together a handful of Globetrotter-style offloads through May, Youngs, and Launchbury, but the final pass between Saracens team-mates Billy Vunipola and fly-half Farrell went awry.
Jones then changed his props with just over half an hour gone as Cole and loosehead Joe Marley were replaced by Kyle Sinckler and Leicester prop Genge respectively, and the first half ended with a third penalty goal as Farrell took the score to 9-0 at the break.
Farrell had another attempt at the posts within seconds of the match getting back underway, but he wasn’t able to add to his tally from the tee with his fourth attempt.
England soon had the ball back, and powerful carries from the two replacement props took the home side right up to Italy’s line, but it was quick thinking from scrum-half Youngs that saw him dot the ball down for the first try of the match. Farrell added the extras to take the score to 16-0.
Tigers fly-half Ford soon joined the action, replacing inside centre Piers Francis as Jones shuffled his backs.
Forward power would do most of the work in the next ten minutes, with a handful of powerful scrums inching England up the pitch before outside centre Joe Marchant lit the touch paper and burst through from a cross field kick for a score under the posts. Farrell’s successful conversion put England 23-0 ahead.
Youngs put England in the position to add a third not long after, using a tap and go from a penalty to make five metres and feed club mate Ford, who took five more with his carry into the guts of the blue defence. The Azzurri clung on, though, and kicked down field to momentarily relieve pressure before Youngs was replaced by Gloucester No9 Willi Heinz.
England were soon back in the red zone, and after a couple of phases May was put over for another ‘try’ on the 60-minute mark, though replays showed the final pass from Farrell had gone forward, and the score would not stand.
Instead it would be a different Tiger to get over the line, with England setting up a rolling maul from five metres out, and front-rower Genge the man to profit from the back for his first score in an England shirt. Farrell added two more points to give England a 30-point lead.
Bath full-back Anthony Watson was next over, with the Ford-Farrell axis creating the opportunity for him to dash over on the left-hand side. A fourth successful conversion from Farrell pinned the score at 37-0 with less than five minutes to play, and despite a late surge from the visitors, that is how the scoreboard would stay as the final whistle was blown.