The tactics England intended to use against Italy on Saturday were clear from the starting XV, as Eddie Jones selected the heaviest backline in the team’s history.
Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga used their brute strength as the hosts brushed off defeat by Wales in the last match and out-muscled Italy to claim a resounding 57-14 win in the penultimate round of the Six Nations.
But it is not just their size that makes Tuilagi and Cokanasiga dangerous. Both also possess the speed and agility of a nimble fly-half, as showcased by the resurgent Tuilagi’s first-half try, in which he skipped away from one tackle before palming off another opponent and charging toward the whitewash.
His team-mate Cokanasiga is still just 21 years old but looked formidable on England’s wing and adds to Jones’s options in the position, which also include Jack Nowell and Chris Ashton.
The Bath player may have not scored a try, but he was an integral part of England’s attack, making 108m, five clean breaks through the Italian defensive line and two offloads – more than anyone else in those categories.
Hard and fast
England have built a reputation for fast starts, particularly at Twickenham, and the eight minutes it took to get the first try was perhaps a little sluggish by their usual standards.
Jamie George forced the ball over the line from a maul as England’s physical game-plan came into effect and continued a trend of scoring in the opening stages of the game.
It looked as though England would have little trouble continuing their winning run against Italy, but the visitors responded immediately with a try of their own through fly-half Tommaso Allan.
It served as a reminder that this Italian side has improved their ball-playing ability, but England stepped up another gear to claim a further three tries before half-time.
It only took until the 32nd minute for England to wrap up the bonus point thanks to tries from George, Tuilagi, Jonny May and Brad Shields and all but secure the win.
Using the squad
Despite the resounding victory, there remain a number of unanswered questions for Jones. The use of overpowering physical backs worked on Saturday but whether it is a tactic that will be used in future or at the World Cup is unclear.
What is clear, however, is the depth of quality at Jones’s disposal. Shields, like Cokanasiga, made his first start of the Six Nations and took the opportunity well with his work at the breakdown as well as two tries – one of which he made himself through a charge-down.
Jones used all eight substitutes at his disposal as England scored eight tries to tally more than a half century of points. He admitted he should have made more changes during the defeat to Wales, in which England looked short of ideas.
“We used the whole 23 today,” Jones said after the win. “We could have used the finishers better against Wales, and that was my fault, but they all made a contribution today.
“We are so blessed to have Brad Shields and Mark Wilson who can play six, there is great competition for places next week,” he added.
England go into their final match of the championship against Scotland on Saturday with the title still a possibility, although it is currently out of their hands.
Jones’s side sit second and are just one point behind leaders Wales despite having lost a game, thanks to ruthlessly taking bonus points from all three wins so far.
As it stands it is still a three-way battle for the crown, but England will be dependent on Ireland beating Wales – who have won 13 consecutive matches – if they are to have a chance.
Wales can claim the Grand Slam with a win over the world’s No2 side, but Ireland can win the championship themselves with victory, should England lose to Scotland.
Jones has already began motivating his side for that clash by reminding his players that the Scottish “pulled our pants down” with a win at Murrayfield in last year’s Six Nations.
With Wales and Ireland playing earlier in the day, by the time England kick off at 5pm, they will already know whether or not they are playing for the title.