England comes alive in second half to whip Italy

AP, Reuters

England rounded off its preparations for the Rugby World Cup in Japan by beating Italy 37-0 on Friday with help from one man who will be left behind.

Center Joe Marchant, who got his chance with Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph under treatment and coach Eddie Jones reluctant to expose Manu Tuilagi to the risk of injury, scored an outstanding try in England’s first home game away from Twickenham since 2015.

After a low-key first half which failed to impress the crowd of 50,157 at St James’ Park, Marchant’s solo try after 53 minutes roused them as England scored four second-half tries from 9-0 up at the break.

England has never lost to Italy in 25 previous tests, and the Italians, who were without rested skipper Sergio Parisse, never looked like breaking their duck as they concluded their World Cup buildup in untidy fashion.

For the English it was job done, as they followed up victories over Wales and Ireland with a competent display against the limited Azzurri to offset their narrow defeat in Cardiff.

Jones fielded 20 of his 31-man World Cup squad that will fly to Japan on Sunday, and he will be anxious to check on the fitness of lock Joe Launchbury after he limped out of the action six minutes before halftime.

Bath winger Ruaridh McConnochie got an early touch to ease his nerves in his long-awaited debut, but most of the action took place on the other wing, where the experienced Jonny May caught the eye with a typically strong performance.

May spoiled Italy’s best try opportunity early on, stripping the ball from center Tommaso Benvenuti after Italy went through 22 phases.

Scrumhalf Ben Youngs scored the first try after strong surges by Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, then Youngs passed to Marchant, who blew past four defenders to score between the posts and put the result beyond doubt.

“As a team, we have been pretty good for the last four weeks,” Youngs said.

“Physically the team are in great shape. We tried to play upbeat tonight but it was hard and it didn’t go all our way and we had to figure it out. We had a good debrief at halftime and came out much better.”

Italy’s interest fell away, and England finished with tries to Genge and Anthony Watson, and Owen Farrell landed his seventh goalkick from eight attempts.

“After last week against France that was a massive step up for us and we’re pretty happy with our physical performance in that first half,” said Italy captain Dean Budd.

England begins its World Cup campaign against Tonga on Sept. 22 in Sapporo, and Italy plays on the same day against Namibia in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture.