|Rugby World Cup warm-up|
|England (9) 37|
|Tries: Youngs, Marchant, Genge, Watson Cons: Farrell 4 Pens: Farrell 3|
|Italy (0) 0|
England brought their World Cup preparations to a winning end after a lively second-half performance against Italy in Newcastle.
Three Owen Farrell penalties gave the hosts a 9-0 lead following a lacklustre first half, but Ben Youngs’ try brought the match to life after the break.
Centre Joe Marchant, who is not in the World Cup squad, broke free for a stylish solo effort before prop Ellis Genge scored his first England try.
Anthony Watson then cruised through a gap created by Owen Farrell’s delayed pass to add England’s fourth and final score.
Eddie Jones’ side travel to Japan on Sunday and begin their World Cup campaign against Tonga on 22 September.
England have won all but one of their warm-up games, recording their biggest winning margin against Ireland and beating Wales at Twickenham before losing to the same opponents in Cardiff the following week.
International rugby travels north
A Friday night in Newcastle is not a standard backdrop for Test rugby and many fans at St James’ Park, where England had never played before, were experiencing a live international for the first time.
Initially, it looked as if Eddie Jones’ side would treat the crowd to a high-scoring game as Italy made a sloppy start and Youngs capitalised with a kick that almost saw Jonny May score in the first few minutes.
Farrell took the hosts ahead with a penalty but the Azzurri soon turned the tables and found themselves a few metres out from the try-line. Tommaso Benvenuti found space on the right and looked to have beaten May in a one-on-one, but dropped the ball forward on the line.
From there play became more subdued, perhaps because both sides are flying to Japan over the weekend and were wary of last-minute injuries.
England seemed to be experimenting in attack, with both Youngs and Farrell testing May with more kicks over the top of Italy’s defence.
But the innovation did not always work in England’s favour and on a number of occasions Farrell’s passes went awry as he missed the next runner coming through.
In any case, victory was clearly more important than experimentation as the England captain chose to go for goal whenever penalties were within range.
This tactic did not go down well with the Northern fans, though. Farrell’s decision to kick at the posts again with a minute left in the first half was met with boos from a Newcastle crowd thirsty for tries.
England supporters will also not have enjoyed the sight of lock Joe Launchbury on the floor receiving treatment in the first half.
The 28-year-old looked to be suffering from back pain and was soon replaced by Charlie Ewels, while props Joe Marler and Dan Cole also came off earlier than expected, although neither seemed to be injured.
But there was concern for England’s front row later as replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie limped off the field and substitute prop Kyle Sinckler left the pitch gingerly before full-time too.
What the Newcastle fans came for
Farrell continued in the same vein after the break, but missed the penalty that England had won after just a minute of play.
The fly-half soon made amends, kicking to Marchant, who had space on the right wing. The centre could not get over himself and sent the ball back inside, where Youngs grabbed it at the base of a ruck and dotted down across the line.
Marchant then got his chance to shine as he stepped through Italian defenders to break away on his own and go over under the posts for his first international try.
With Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph not back to full fitness in time for the match, the 23-year-old has made it clear that he is ready to step in if needed.
Farrell eventually gave the fans what they wanted and kicked a penalty to the corner. His side surged forward at the line-out, with Genge at the bottom of the pile as they went over.
The England skipper was pivotal to Watson’s score, too. The Saracens back timed his pass perfectly to allow Watson to race through a tired Italian line.
Italy’s half-backs also combined well. Former England Under-20s captain Callum Braley, who qualifies through an Italian grandfather, and Zebre fly-half Carlo Canna put in solid performances but could not convert their efforts into points.
Man of the match – Jonny May
Leicester wing Jonny May looks more than ready for Japan. The 29-year-old was everywhere, repeatedly coming off his wing to try to find a way through the Italian defence.