SIX NATIONS FEATURE: Gladiatorial Eddie Jones and England in imperious mood as Twickenham performance puts Italians to the sword
PUBLISHED: 20:26 09 March 2019 | UPDATED: 20:44 09 March 2019
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The talk on the train from Waterloo to the home of rugby was of City bonuses rather than bonus points, stock conversions rather than converted tries and trips to the Amalfi Coast instead of the Stadio Olympico.
As the crowded carriages disgorged their collection of fund managers and Investment bankers at Twickenham station the atmosphere was one of a trip to the opera rather than the home of English rugby.
A collection of Italian supporters clad in immaculate white suits and black dickie bow ties only served to heighten the sense of a recital – even if the banner they were holding unsteadily read, with wonderful irony: ‘We’re only here for the national anthems,’ before proceeding to sing in beautiful, if mournful harmony, the elegant Il Canto degli Italiani.
It was, however, ultimately to prove a requiem rather than a call to arms as Conor O’Shea’s side were thoroughly outclassed, outmuscled and outscored 57-14.
A number of travelling Italian fans may have dressed as gladiators, complete, strangely, with tartan kilts, but it was their hapless if hard-working team that were put to the sword in the gladiatorial arena that is Twickenham.
The charismatic Eddie Jones made five changes to the side which lost to Wales.
Powerful backs Joe Cokanasiga and Ben Te’o both started while prop Ellis Genge, lock Joe Launchbury and flanker Brad Shields were all restored to an intimidating pack.
Italy captain Sergio Parisse returned from concussion in one of three changes to the side that lost to Ireland – with Sebastian Negri joining him in the back row as hooker Luca Bigi featured in his first start of the championship.
Italy had lost their previous 20 Six Nations matches and were bottom of the 2019 Six Nations table – but in mitigation they led Ireland at half-time of their last match before losing 26-16.
The Azzurri had led twice against England at half-time: 10-5 up on their last visit in 2017 before subsiding 26-15, and 12-6 in 2013 only to fall 19-15 defeat.
Despite Italy stunning Twickenham in the opening stages by powering over the whitewash through Tommasso Allan who then converted after In a hectic opening Jamie George dotted down after a driving maul with Owen Farrell converting for a 7-0 lead.
Normal service was resumed shortly afterwards and the result was never in doubt once Eddie Jones side then grabbed a second try through Jonny May with Farrell converting for 14-7.
May’s try saw him move to 17 tries in 26 Tests at Twickenham with only Rory Underwood (27), Ben Cohen (20) and Jeremy Guscott (19) scoring more tries at rugby’s HQ.
It soon became 21-7 after Manu Tuillagi broke through through Italian lines to dot down for his first try in five years with the reliable Farrell converting.
Jones’ side appeared to have done their homework as the visitors weakness looked to be on the outside channel – which the home side exploited mercilessly.
Farrell then added three more with a penalty to put the home side further ahead at 24-7.
The bonus point was bagged when Brad Shields race over to dot down for his first test try before Farrell again converted on 32 minutes.
Tuilagi swerved his man to feed the ball inside to see Shields canters through for Farrell’s simple conversion as the score moved on to 31-7.
Italy were down to 14 men with Tomasso Castello down injured when Tuilagi burst through but in truth they had been struggling to contain England with a full complement.
The second half was no different as Tuilagi grabbed his second try of the afternoon in the corner after a wonderful pass from George to feed him to make it 36-7 before Farrell proved he was human by failing to convert for the first time in the match.
Luca Morisi powered over to his unbridled delight prior to Allan again converting to close the gap to 36-14.
Seven more points were added when George Kruis blocked a clearance from No15 Jayden Hayward to race over the whitewash. It was good anticipation but Hayward hardly disguised his intentions.
The kick was converted by George Ford who replaced No10 Farrell to make it 43-14.
The half-century for Jones side was reached shortly afterwards when Dan Robson scored the seventh home try of the afternoon following a neat offload by Joe Cokanasiga with Ford again converting.
The eighth try of the afternoon came shortly afterwards from Shields, converted by George, to seal an emphatic victory – with the charismatic Jones imperious in his post-match pronouncement of the visitors, saying: “I don’t feel anything for Italy. They can look after themselves.”
If only they could when facing England’s powerful onslaught.
The confident and charismatic box office Australian then proceeded to growl ominously about Scotland after the match– ominously for Scotland at any rate.
For they are the next obstacle for Jones powerful side to overcome on the way - not to the Six Nations - but the far bigger prize of the Rugby World Cup in Japan this October.
The look of disdain on his face when discussing his Calcutta Cup opponents a week hence was evident as he said: “‘That’s their game of the year.
“Look at the way they carried on last year [after beating England 24-13 at a raucous Murrayfield].
“Some have short memories, some have long memories. I remember everything that they said last year,” adding with a mischievous glint in his eye, which all the best leaders have, “Do I doubt myself? I don’t know mate. I don’t think I do.”
In a World Cup year, on this form no-one should ever doubt Jones - or his England side.
As English and Italian supporters swayed away from Rugby’s HQ in good humour and high spirits, busy yelling Saturday plans into their phones and companions ears, the on-field rout would, for O’Shea’s side – similar to the fans’ impending hangovers - be painful but forgotten soon enough.
Emperor Jones on the other hand has far bigger fish to fry – and rivals to slay.
Scotland, and the rugby world beware when England and their coach are in this mood.
Follow sports journalist Layth on Twitter @laythy29