ROME – Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds both scored two tries as England launched their bid for an unprecedented third outright Six Nations title with a 46-15 win away to Italy at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Watson crossed for two unconverted tries early on, but Italy recovered to be 17-10 down at the break only for England, who scored seven tries in total, to pull away in the second half.
Victory meant England have won all 24 of their Tests against Italy, with the Azzurri’s losing streak in the Six Nations extended to 13 matches.
An injury-hit England took just three minutes to open the scoring with a well-worked try for Watson.
The visitors won a scrum penalty which Owen Farrell kicked deep into Italy territory to give England an attacking lineout.
They won quick ball off the top, and recalled centre Ben Te’o ran hard at the Italian midfield.
Te’o also showed good handling skills to link with George Ford on the loop, and Jonny May made the extra man by coming across from the left wing before sending in right wing Watson on the overlap.
England suffered a setback, however, 10 minutes into the match when scrumhalf Ben Youngs went off injured.
But Watson soon had his second try.
With flyhalf Ford again involved in a loop move, and May once more cutting across, Watson sprinted clear and, with little room to play with, athletically grounded the ball despite opposing wing Tommaso Benvenuti’s attempt to illegally shove him into touch.
Nevertheless, an Italy side where seven players were making their tournament debuts, while veteran Alessandro Zanni was winning his 100th cap, hit back with a 20th-minute try.
Outside centre Tommaso Boni and wing Mattia Bellini made good ground down the left before the ball was worked across field, where flyhalf Tommaso Allan’s excellent cut-out pass sent Benvenuti in at the right corner.
Allan made light of a difficult conversion and Italy were just 10-7 down.
But minutes later, England were 10 points up again.
Props Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole both made ground in a series of rapid breakdown plays.
Farrell then went on to the blindside and took a well-timed pass from replacement scrumhalf Danny Care, before easing through another gap in the Italian defence for a try under the posts.
Late in the first half, Italy tried to catch England out by running a close-range penalty.
England’s defence held firm, albeit at the cost of another penalty which Allan kicked to cut the visitors advantage at the break to 17-10.
.@EnglandRugby got their title defence off to the perfect start against a committed @Federugby at a sold-out Stadio Olimpico.
REPORT: https://t.co/PPKzgxVwn8 #ITAvENG #NatWest6Nations pic.twitter.com/HKmNpc6sOB
Early in the second period, Watson squandered a hat trick chance when he lost possession in the act of grounding the ball, although Farrell did nudge England further ahead with a penalty.
Italy thought they had hit back with a try from Boni, but his score was ruled out on video review for a forward pass by Allan.
England then capitalised when No 8 Simmonds, only starting because of injuries to Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, marked his Six Nations debut with a try when he burst through yet more poor tackling.
Farrell converted but Italy, to their credit, hit back when Bellini squeezed in at the corner after holding off England fullback Mike Brown.
England put the result beyond all doubt when Farrell and Ford, friends since their schooldays, linked well for a 68th-minute try by the flyhalf.
And there was still time for Simmonds and replacement Jack Nowell to cross against a tiring Italy.
Italy 15 – Tries: Tommaso Benvenutti, Mattia Bellini. Conversion: Tommaso Allan (1). Penalty: Allan (1).
England 46 – Tries: Anthony Watson (2), Owen Farrell, Sam Simmonds (2), George Ford, Jack Nowell. Conversions: Farrell (4). Penalty: Farrell (1).