LONDON (AFP) – England coach Eddie Jones forecast fans were in for a treat following the “wonderful rugby” played on the opening weekend of this season’s Six Nations.
Jones’s men launched their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright title by rounding off the first round of fixtures with a 46-15 win away to Italy in Rome on Sunday.
A crowd of more than 61,000 spectators at the Stadio Olimpico saw England run in seven tries, with an emboldened Italy scoring two of their own before fading away late on.
The fixture capped a weekend where Wales hammered Scotland 34-7 in Cardiff, while Ireland needed a last-ditch drop goal from Johnny Sexton to see off France 15-13 in Paris.
It all promised a truly competitive tournament, in marked contrast to last year’s Rugby Championship where world champions New Zealand were yet again the overwhelmingly dominant side in the southern hemisphere equivalent of the Six Nations.
“I thought if you look at the three games in the championship so far, what wonderful rugby,” said Jones.
“You had Wales and Scotland throwing the ball from side-to-side, you had Ireland and France in an old-fashioned arm wrestle.
“You saw today (Sunday) that there was a bit of an arm wrestle and then it opened up at the end.
“We feel honoured to be part of the tournament and the tournament is only going to get better,” added the Australian after overseeing his 23rd victory in 24 Tests in charge of England.
“We go next week (against Wales) at Twickenham, there will be 82,00 people, they’ll be absolutely pumped and we’ll be pumped to play in front of them.”
The speedy Watson gave England an early 10-0 lead with two unconverted tries and Jones, perhaps mindful he was in Italy, said: “He got the Maserati out of the car park today.”
Simmonds might not have even been on the bench had both Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes been fit, but the Exeter back-row did not look out of place in what was just his fourth Test.
“Sam’s a good young lad with a great set of skills,” said Jones.
“If he was a cricketer he’d be playing Twenty20,” the avid cricket fan added.
“He’s a bit different — he’s fast and runs good lines.”
Reflecting on England’s overall performance, Jones said: “Our scrum and line-out was absolutely first-class. I don’t think we’ve scrummed as well as that in the time I’ve been in charge of England.
“We were completely dominant and that’s English rugby. When the game broke up at the end we were able to score tries… It wasn’t the perfect game but very, very positive.”
The one downside for England was the sight of Ben Youngs being taken off on a medical cart just 10 minutes into the game after crying out in pain when his knee buckled during a tackle.
“Ben will have an examination so we’ll know more after that,” said Jones. “He’s unlikely to be available for the Wales game.”
As for who would join Danny Care, who came off the bench in Rome, as a scrum-half in England’s squad for Wales, a playful Jones, indicating a preference for a ‘kicking’ No 9, said: “They’re on the Batphone mate.”
Sunday’s result meant Italy, who’ve now lost all 24 of their Tests against England, had gone 1,072 days since they last enjoyed a win over any opponent in the Six Nations.
“I’m proud and angry,” said Italy coach Conor O’Shea, the former Ireland fullback, after a match where Azzurri skipper Sergio Parisse suffered a rib injury.
“Proud because we saw a team with a lot of potential for the future. But I’m annoyed because we caused them a lot of problems with the ball but the defeat is another statistic.”
Italy next face O’Shea’s compatriots in Dublin and he admitted: “It’s a long, hard road ahead for us and we will have to be more disciplined against Ireland.”