England head coach Eddie Jones hailed Jonathan Joseph’s match-winning credentials after the Bath centre plundered a second-half hat-trick to boost his side’s quest for a Grand Slam with victory over Italy in Rome.
The “good hiding” which Jones had demanded that England dish out to their rivals was looking a bleak prospect in the 53rd minute as the Red Rose held a slender 11-9 lead, with only fly-half George Ford’s first-half try to show for their efforts.
But the first of Joseph’s three touchdowns in the final half an hour signalled England’s onslaught as inside centre Owen Farrell, who also kicked 10 points, delivered the final blow with a late try.
“Jonathan was very good. His defence last week against Scotland was outstanding. He knows when to close and when to drift,” said Jones, who maintained his 100 per cent winning record in charge of England.
“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 No8 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.”
A second consecutive victory preserved England’s perfect start to their Six Nations campaign to head the Championship table, level on points with France, who are the only other side to boast back-to-back wins.
“We wanted to be two from two and we’re two from two,” added Jones. “We did some good things in the second half. In the first half we allowed Italy into the game. The first half set the second half up for us and I was pleased by the way we put them away.
“We could have easily scored 60 points out there. I thought we were quite brutal in the second half, we came in off the line and really hurt the Italians in the end.
“We’ve had two games and two wins and no major injuries, so we’re sailing along pretty well at the moment.”
Ford’s try in a disjointed first half came off turnover possession, won by full-back Mike Brown, although England’s progress was checked by three Carlo Canna penalties for the Azzurri.
Italy wing Leonardo Sarto’s errant pass gifted Joseph his opening try, while the 24-year-old collected scrum-half Danny Care’s canny grubber kick for his second and then barged through three Italian tacklers to seal his hat-trick inside the final 10 minutes.
Replacement hooker Jamie George’s offload released Farrell to complete the scoring for England, who gave debuts off the bench to Saracens lock Maro Itoje and Northampton prop Paul Hill.