Whatever happened to the likely lads of Twickenham? Make all the polite noises you like about World Cup dress rehearsals or shadow boxing but, until the final quarter, this was far from the resounding northern powerhouse display Eddie Jones would have preferred ahead of his squad’s departure on Sunday. If this is how his players respond to unfamiliar surroundings in Japan, they will fall well short of their ultimate goal.
While the hosts did perk up in the second half, having led 9-0 at the interval, it was largely because they had no other option. Barely half an hour of the game had elapsed when Jones opted to haul off both his starting props, Joe Marler and Dan Cole, and it took four second-half tries from Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson to earn a victory that, for the first 50 minutes, was less comfortable than the final margin suggests.
The premature departure of Joe Launchbury with a sore back and Luke Cowan-Dickie with a minor knee knock were other niggling concerns and Jones announced afterwards that neither Mako Vunipola nor Jack Nowell would be fit to play until England’s third or fourth pool game. The good news is that, according to Jones, there are no other major casualties, with the strapping on Kyle Sinckler’s leg described as precautionary. Owen Farrell’s goal-kicking, meanwhile, was faultless and a largely second-string Italy, for all their heart and effort, were unable to score a solitary point.
Even Jones, though, had to concede that his team’s lacklustre first-half effort was not ideal, suggesting “it looked like we were still eating pasta and pizza in Treviso”. While there are sizeable differences between Tyneside and Tokyo, the dozen turnovers and sluggish effort by England in the first 40 minutes were a reminder that much work remains to be done.
In terms of showcasing rugby’s irresistible appeal to an expectant north-east audience, it was also a chance missed. If the locals were expecting a glittering attacking masterclass with a hat-trick of tries from their adopted Cumbrian hero Mark Wilson they were sadly disappointed. England looked flat and curiously hesitant and only led after half an hour courtesy of two straightforward Farrell penalties.
Italy, as always under Conor O’Shea, lacked nothing for early endeavour and, on occasions, looked the brighter side with the ball in hand. They also came closest to a try, centre Tommaso Benvenuti squandering a golden chance when he dropped the ball with the line at his mercy in the 12th minute. Number eight Jimmy Tuivaiti, flanker Sebastian Negri and fly-half Carlo Canna asked persistent questions and Jayden Hayward was an authoritative presence at full-back.
Only once, when Wilson broke free down the left, was there much to capture Geordie imaginations but the flanker’s inside ball was too low for May to gather cleanly. The wing was looking his side’s sharpest threat but, frankly, the field of contenders was thinly populated. It was enough to ensure the shepherd’s crook for Cole and Marler with seven minutes still to go before the interval, only for England to concede a scrum penalty at the first set-piece involving their replacements Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge.
Was it pre-ordained? Jones insisted later that it had been but, either way, it was another brutal reminder that Jones is not remotely bothered about ruffling egos should circumstances demand it. The England half-time huddle contained some stern-looking faces and the disappointed jeers when Farrell opted to kick another penalty shortly before the break rather than opt for something more eye-catching summed up the prevailing mood.
Happily for all concerned the second half was a much-needed improvement, with Marchant showing good pace to score his first England try and both Genge and Watson making the most of the extra space which coincided with Ford’s arrival. Everything is strictly relative, though. This was the Azzurri’s 20th defeat in 27 games under O’Shea and they are about to dip their toes into an unforgiving World Cup pool alongside New Zealand and South Africa. They have already lost 47-19 to France and 29-10 to Ireland in the past month and their 85-15 victory over Russia would have carried more value had their opponents not also recently lost at home to the Championship team Jersey. It was sufficient, even so, for Jones to claim his side are “going in the right direction” and he was absolutely right to credit Italy’s resolve. “They worked hard off the ball and that’s probably one of their best defensive performances,” he said
While it was a notable night, too, for England’s debutant wing Ruaridh McConnochie, finally winning his first cap at the third attempt after injury cruelly intervened last month, Jones sounded slightly doubtful when asked when England would next play a Test in the north. “It was nice to spread rugby a bit further but I don’t know if the RFU want to do it again,”he said. Right now, he has slightly more pressing priorities. England are heading to Japan with three warm-up wins out of four but, if they aspire to be world champions, there is still a fair way to travel.
- England Vs. Germany: A Great Rivalry With New Dynamics
- Bayern Munich Wins Champions League, a Victory for Tradition and Team
- Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount prepare to play against Germany by joining Zoom calls
England fail to impress in World Cup warm-up victory over Italy have 940 words, post on www.theguardian.com at September 6, 2019. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.