ROME (Reuters) - England centre Jonathan Joseph sent an emphatic message to his doubters on Sunday with a hat-trick of tries in a pitiless 40-9 Six Nations victory over Italy and was rewarded with some reassuring backing from no-nonsense coach Eddie Jones.
The Bath player had a relatively lacklustre start to the year after a sparkling performance in Six Nations 2015 and has a clutch of rivals, with Elliot Daly to the fore, snapping at his heels.
But Joseph slammed the door with his treble, the first of which in the 53rd minute swung the game England’s way and marked the point of no return for the tiring Azzurri.
At the post-match news conference, Jones jumped to Joseph’s defence and interrupted a reporter who said there had been talk of Daly taking the number 13 shirt.
“A lot of talk from you guys, not a lot of talk from me, let’s get that right... he wasn’t under pressure for his spot,” Jones said, describing Joseph as “a real danger”.
“He’s got to be able to read the game well and he did that exceptionally well today. Last week (in the victory over Scotland) he did it exceptionally well and his defence today was very good. He is a seriously good player.”
With Manu Tuilagi edging back to fitness and the slippery Henry Slade hopefully back into contention next season after his broken leg, the future is looking bright for England in the midfield area that has been a problem for so long.
England’s second-half onslaught will largely wipe away the memories of their first-half struggles as they laboured to an 11-9 lead at a Stadio Olimpico filled with tens of thousands of flag-waving away fans on Valentine’s Day trips.
Jones, however, said it was all part of the plan as they expected to rack up the points in the final quarter.
“I was pleased by the way we put them away. In the end we were quite dominant,” said the Australian. “We were quite brutal in the second half, really came off the line and hurt the Italians.”
A bruised and disconsolate Sergio Parisse said he hoped the Azzurri could learn from errors such as their lack of organisation around the ruck, which, combined with losing four players to injury, left them an impossible task.
“I‘m very disappointed. I don’t like this, you can’t lose by 40 points,” said the captain.
“But this doesn’t change anything, we will work harder and be more determined.”
Editing By Mitch Phillips