England head coach Eddie Jones acclaimed Jonathan Joseph’s complete performance after the Bath centre ran-in a hat-trick of tries as Italy were swept aside 40-9 in yesterday’s RBS 6 Nations encounter in Rome.
Joseph plundered all three of his scores in the final half hour and struck for the first time when the Red Rose led just 11-9 against a determined home team, prompting Jones to declare he had attacked “exceptionally well”.
“Jonathan was very good. His defence last week against Scotland was outstanding. He knows when to close and when to drift,” said Jones.
“Sometimes a 13 doesn’t get a lot of ball and at Murrayfield you don’t get a lot of ball. But here he looked sharp on his feet.
“He has a great short kicking game, a good outside break and has lovely footwork. We saw a bit of that against Italy.
“He read the game well – a 13 is like a No 8 in that he has to be able to read the game well and he did that exceptionally well.
“Last week he did exceptionally well in defence, this week he did exceptionally well in attack and his defence was very good as well. That Italian 13 he was up against is a serious player.”
England remain on course for the grand slam after following up their 15-9 victory over Scotland by prevailing at the Stadio Olimpico, where George Ford and Owen Farrell also crossed.
“We wanted to be two from two and we’re two from two. We did some good things in the second half, in the first half we allowed Italy into the game,” said Jones.
“The first half set the second half up for us and I was pleased by the way that we put them away.”
England delivered the “good hiding” of Italy demanded by Jones but until Joseph struck for the first time in the 53rd minute, the “absolutely brutal” demolition in which no Italian was “left standing” sought by Jones looked a bold ambition with the lead a slender two points.
On another weekend of low-quality Six Nations rugby, the rivals produced a poor advert for a tournament that is falling well short of the standards witnessed in last autumn’s World Cup.
Italy’s intent to play was evident until they eventually folded and in Carlo Canna they had a fly-half who could challenge the line and force openings, but the killer instinct to put away chances is still missing.
Most of the earlier attacking highlights were provided by Sergio Parisse’s men, who were often the more creative, but England eventually moved through the gears to capitalise on an increasingly ragged defence.
Maro Itoje made his eagerly-awaited debut off the bench, but it was the lightning-fast Joseph who stole the show, even if Ben Youngs was named man of the match. Joseph was exposed twice during a torrid start, however, after being flattened by opposite number Michele Campagnaro and then conceding a turnover.
Three points from the boot of Canna saw the Azzurri rewarded for their endeavour, but when their scrum crumbled deep in their own half Farrell was able to level the score.
A dummy and break by Youngs saw England renew their attack with Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola adding weight to the assault until a knock-on brought the move to an end.
Farrell departed for a head injury assessment after being flattened by a heavy tackle – he later returned – so it was Ford and Canna who exchanged kicks as a tight opening quarter drew to a close. There was redemption for Joseph as his tenacity in pressing defence helped England win a turnover that was threaded left where a crafty pass from Vunipola found Farrell and Ford darted over in the corner.
Italy were full of ambition but a promising move broke down once more, allowing Anthony Watson to counter-attack with a timely injection of pace.
Canna kicked his third penalty and the Azzurri finished the half with a flourish, forcing Chris Robshaw and Jack Nowell to save the day by scrambling back.
England were struggling to match Italy’s intensity and it was the home side who were in the ascendancy as an ugly third quarter unfolded, so when a second try was plundered it came against the run of play.
Italy were looking to counter from their own 22 and wing Leonardo Sarto paid the price for a desperate pass that was easily picked off by Joseph. Five minutes later Joseph crossed again, collecting a brilliantly-judged grubber by Danny Care and strolling over the whitewash.
The hat-trick was completed with a show of strength from Joseph, who rode several tackles before crashing over with Joe Launchbury prominently involved, before Farrell arrived to deliver the final blow.
Former Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster junior Paul Hill, 20, came off the bench to debut.
Italy: McLean, L. Sarto, Campagnaro, Garcia (Pratichetti 32), Bellini, Canna (Padovani 60), Gori (Palazzani 75), Lovotti (Zanusso 62), Gega (Giazzon 41), Cittadini (Castrogiovanni 58), Biagi, Fuser (Bernabo 14), Minto, Zanni (Steyn 30), Parisse.
England: Brown (Goode 69), Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell, Ford, Youngs (Care 49), M. Vunipola (Marler 47), Hartley (George 69), Cole (P. Hill 69), Lawes (Launchbury 47), Kruis, Robshaw (Clifford 62), Haskell (Itoje 54), B. Vunipola.
Referee: G Jackson (New Zealand).