LONDON – Manu Tuilagi scored his first Test tries in five years as England thrashed Italy 57-14 at Twickenham on Saturday to maintain their Six Nations title hopes.
The rampaging centre, whose career has been blighted by injuries, crossed twice as England ran in eight tries in total against perennial strugglers Italy, for whom this was a 21st successive defeat in the Six Nations.
England will, however, need Grand Slam-chasing Wales to slip-up against Ireland a week on Saturday before they themselves kick-off against Scotland if they are to still have a chance of claiming the Championship.
The match was over as a contest before half-time, with Tuilagi – whose career has been blighted by a succession of injuries – scored one of England’s four tries as they secured a bonus point in the 32nd minute.
Recalled wing Joe Cokanasiga was, however, chosen as the man-of-the-match as England bounced back from their defeat by Wales last time out in style.
“We are trying to bring more to the game than size or power – a bit of flair as well,” Cokanasiga told ITV Sport.
“I just wanted to take this opportunity with both hands,” added Cokanasiga who, ironically, spent much of the match carrying the ball in just the one hand.”
Italy, to their credit, were briefly level at 7-7 thanks to fly-half Tommaso Allan converting his own try.
But there was a reason the Azzurri, who’ve now lost all 25 of their Tests against England, were 60/1 outsiders and from then on it was largely one-way traffic.
“It was difficult,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea told the BBC.
“That was an incredibly powerful England performance,” the former Ireland full-back added.
England, dominating territory from the start, opened the scoring in the eighth minute when hooker Jamie George was driven over from a close-range line-out.
Italy then stunned a capacity Twickenham crowd of over 82,000 with a well-worked score that saw Allan, breaking through a tackle by England scrum-half Ben Youngs on the blind side for a try he converted.
Minutes later, however, England were 14-7 ahead after full-back Elliot Daly sent Jonny May in for the wing’s fifth try in four Tests.
Tuilagi, renowned as a powerful ball-carrier, then burst through Italy wing Angelo Esposito’s tackle and handed off centre Michele Campagnaro before running in from 34 metres for his first England try since one against Italy in 2014.
Fly-half Farrell, who converted that try as well, then found himself in the unusual position of being booed at Twickenham when he opted to kick, rather than run a penalty that extended the lead to 24-7.
A full Test was assuming the air of a match involving the Barbarians, where both teams are expected to run the ball come what may.
Tuilagi then turned provider, with another strong run through weak cover before a well-timed inside pass to Brad Shields saw the flanker score his first Test try – England’s fourth of the game, with Farrell duly adding the simple conversion.
But Italy captain Sergio Parisse was continuing to drive hard despite the scoreline, the No 8 returning for his 137th Test after missing the defeat by Ireland with a concussion.
Front-rower George produced a cut-out pass worthy of a silky midfielder to send Tuilagi in for his second try in the 47th minute.
Farrell, for once, missed the conversion but it scarcely mattered.
Italy managed a second try when Luca Morisi went over in the 54th minute, Allan again adding the conversion.
But England were not done, George Kruis charging down full-back Jayden Hayward’s kick for a 64th-minute try converted by George Ford, one of a stream of replacements.
Reserve scrum-half Dan Robson then scored his first Test try before another charge down saw Shields grab his second touchdown of the game.AFP