England’s forwards get the job done over Italy in men’s 2023 Six Nations

England's forwards get the job done over Italy

England’s 31-14 win over Italy on Sunday had Steve Borthwick written all over it. England’s pack was dominant up front, granite-like in defense, and with high energy in the kick-chase. Borthwick’s forwards got the job done and there was a lot to be happier about a week on from the Calcutta Cup loss to Scotland.

The first half in particular was a step up, although Italy were truly woeful at times in the first forty minutes. England’s management got the selections right with Ollie Lawrence and Jack Willis fully justifying their recalls. The second half was a different story as Italy improved and England failed to push home their advantage. Borthwick will know that Wales, France, and Ireland will pose a far greater challenge writes Charlie Inglefield.

England’s forwards get the job done over Italy

It was great to see England’s pack fire up again after a chastening Autumn series. Jamie George had a terrific day hitting his jumpers and Ellis Genge destroyed his opposite number Danilo Fischetti to give England clear ascendancy at scrum time. Jack Willis had a huge first half to fully justify his inclusion and formed a promising back-row partnership with Lewis Ludlam and Alex Dombrandt.

Maro Itoje also deserves a mention, having a much more productive afternoon in the set-piece than what we saw against Scotland a week ago.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of England’s overall performance was the ferocity that England’s forwards showed in defence. They won the collisions in the first twenty minutes and continually smashed their counterparts behind the gain line. There was an energy about England’s forwards that bodes well for the future. The rolling maul was effective and almost unstoppable at times. There was also an efficiency to the set piece that has not been seen for a while.

With Tom Curry, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Courtney Lawes to come back there are signs that England’s traditional forward strengths are on the rise again. They will need every man on deck with the challenges to come for the remainder of the Six Nations.

Lawrence finally gives England the go-forward in attack

Oh how we have missed a normal fly-half/centre combination. England’s backline looked more balanced with Farrell, Lawrence, and Slade in tandem. Ollie Lawrence was muscular and dominant at number 12, consistently bashing over the gain line including a memorable trample over poor Tommaso Allan. England’s half-backs finally had quicker ball to work with and crucially more time and space.

It was therefore a real shame that England’s backs could not conjure enough magic to really put away the Italians. 26-7 up going into the final quarter the stage was set for England’s backline to unleash but it never materialized. Admittedly Italy were much better in the second half and deserves credit for making it more of a contest. But, Borthwick and Nick Evans will be disappointed that England couldn’t create enough outwide.

It was really tough on Ollie Hassell-Collins who barely saw the ball all afternoon. He has been starved of possession these last two weeks and together with Freddie Steward and Max Malins we saw very little in attack from England’s back three.

England 31 – Tries: Jack Willis, Ollie Chessum, Jamie George, Henry Arundell, penalty try; Conversions: Owen Farrell (2)

Italy 14 – Tries: Marco Riccioni, Alessandro Fusco; Cons: Tomasso Allan (2).

Analysis: Farrell and Slade fail to fire

Owen Farrell looked far more comfortable back in the fly-half jersey. However, Farrell still struggled to get his backline going.

He was guilty along with the rest of England’s playmakers of chipping behind when deep inside Italy’s 22 instead of recycling through the phases. England’s had three of four golden opportunities wasted inside Italy’s 22 through misdirected kicks behind Italy’s defence. Try scoring chances against the likes of Ireland and France will be much harder to find and England has to be more clinical near the opposition tryline.

Henry Slade was effective with his left boot but, was subdued with ball in hand. Marcus Smith eventually came on for Slade but cut a frustrated figure at the final whistle. One could not help but wonder how Smith would have fared in the first half? (with England’s pack totally dominant).

It was also worth noting that Italy made more line breaks and nearly twice the metres that England did. Praise for England’s defence indeed yet, they simply ‘have to get better in attack’.

Six Nations round three classic awaits in Cardiff

England face a daunting but exciting challenge in Cardiff in two weeks’ time. Nothing stirs the heart of a Welshman more than the sight of an England rugby team coming to town. Warren Gatland is a master at galvanizing Wales to perform against England. The Welsh public will forgive their team’s opening two performances of this year’s Six Nations if they turn over Steve Borthwick’s men.

England started well against Italy and they must continue that against Wales. The emotion and intensity that Cardiff and Wales will bring are two factors that Borthwick has to get right as part of his preparations. Quieten the crowd and half the job will be done. With both Wales and England trying to find their feet with new management, we could be in for an absolute classic on Saturday week.

For now, Borthwick and his management team should celebrate a first Six Nations win. England made a small step forward against Italy as Borthwick mentioned in a post-match interview. Most pleased by England’s forwards, as they redressed some instability lately.

Fans will only get a proper gauge of where his England team is at, once they have played Wales, France, and end the championship facing Ireland on March 14.


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