LONDON (Reuters) - England ran in eight tries as they outclassed and overpowered an injury-hit Italy 57-14 at Twickenham on Saturday to stay in the hunt for the Six Nations title going into the final round of fixtures.
England were in total control throughout as tries by Jamie George, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields had the bonus point in the bag and a 31-7 lead by halftime, with Tommaso Allan grabbing the visitors’ lone score.
Tuilagi, whose last international try came against Italy five years ago, added his second after the break, with lock George Kruis, replacement scrumhalf Dan Robson and Shields also crossing.
After their 18-11 win over Scotland, Wales top the standings with 16 points, but no bonus points. England have 15 and a massive points-difference advantage over the Welsh and Ireland, who are third on nine points ahead of their home game against France on Sunday.
If Wales beat Ireland next week they will complete the Grand Slam but a defeat would mean an England victory over Scotland in the final game of “Super Saturday” at Twickenham, where the Scots have not won for 36 years, would be enough to lift the title unless Ireland rack up two huge bonus-point wins.
“It was a really good response from us, we bounced back,” coach Eddie Jones told reporters in reference to their defeat in Cardiff two weeks ago.
“You start to doubt yourself, players get a lot of criticism, everyone knows better, but you have to stick to your guns. I don’t think I coached the players very well against Wales so I was really pleased how they responded,” the Australian added.
“Our scrummaging was at another level and some good things happened in the backline. We could have got loose in the second half but we stuck to our game and put them away, that takes discipline.”
Italy host France next week assured of finishing last for the fourth season in a row after Saturday’s 21st successive defeat in the competition and their 25th in 25 meetings with England.
“We were overpowered, I’ve just said to my players that that’s the top of the mountain - we played against a hurt and unbelievably physical England who are the best team in the Six Nations in my opinion,” said Italy coach Conor O’Shea.
“But the courage we showed in the second half, when you’ve lost your three centres injured and have a prop in the back row and scrumhalf on the wing - it would be easy to put up the white flag but we didn’t do that so I’m immensely proud of the players.”
Last time they came to Twickenham two years ago Italy had England in trouble via their “no-ruck” tactic but they had no tricks and precious little regulation play in a one-sided contest as England dominated every area.
George was shoved over the line for the opening try, with flyhalf Tommaso Allan responding in the visitors’ first attack.
England hit straight back when a scything run by Elliot Daly set up May for his fifth try in this season’s Six Nations.
Tuilagi brushed past Angelo Esposito and Michele Campagnaro for his score and the centre’s next break sent flanker Shields over to secure the bonus point with 32 minutes on the clock.
Owen Farrell converted all four, and added a penalty, as England reached the break 31-7 up.
A searing run by winger Joe Cokanasiga, quickly establishing himself as a crowd favourite after four appearances, set up Tuilagi for his second try.
Centre Luca Morisi grabbed a second for Italy as the game became scrappy amid the usual substitutions as scrumhalf Robson was finally given a decent run-out for his second cap after an hour.
England finished strongly as lock Kruis charged down fullback Jayden Hayward’s clearance kick and collected the ball for the sixth try. Robson got the seventh after more good work by Daly and man-of-the-match Cokanasiga while another Kruis chargedown gave Shields his second score.
It was all somewhat predictable for England but next week could be a whole lot more exciting if Ireland can do them a favour in Cardiff and Jones is ramping up the contest after last year’s surprise defeat by the Scots at Murrayfield.
“You saw how they carried on last year when they beat us,” he said. “We’ll have a couple of days off and then rip into training and be at our absolute best next week.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond