It was not a game that will go down in history for its quality, but England’s 37-0 win over Italy at St James’ Park served its purpose.
The scoreline suggests the win was more comfortable than it was, yet Eddie Jones will be content to have seen his side manage the match well in an unfamiliar setting as he prepares them for the World Cup, which starts next week.
England flew to Newcastle from Italy on Thursday and hosted Conor O’Shea’s side far away from the comfort of Twickenham in a bid to replicate the challenges they will face at the tournament in Japan.
After a subdued first half that saw England lead 9-0 thanks to three Owen Farrell penalties, they upped the tempo in the second half to seal the win with tries from Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant, Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson.
Youngs bounces back
A man-of-the-match performance from Youngs went some way to answering his critics after sub-par performances against Wales and Ireland.
The scrum-half dictated play well, often searching for Jonny May with his box kicks, who was typically exceptional under the high ball in a combination that was England’s biggest attacking threat, particularly in the first half.
In the second period, Youngs led the charge, scoring England’s first try in the 45th minute with some quick thinking as he dived for the try line after grabbing the ball from a ruck.
Then eight minutes later he would supply Marchant with the pass for England’s second to round off a strong display before being replaced by Willi Heinz.
Watson makes his case
Jones was keen to trial a back three of May, Ruaridh McConnochie and Watson, all of whom are great under the ball, and the latter will have given the head coach something to think about.
It was Watson’s first start at full-back since returning from injury and he excelled in both defence and attack, before scoring a try late on.
After helping England maintain possession on one wing, he arched his run around the backs to collect a pass from Farrell, before a surge of pace took him through the Italy defence to score.
His performances during these warm-up matches will have aided his claim to start at full-back ahead of Elliot Daly in Japan.
While it looked like there could be injury issues for Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler, all of whom were withdrawn looking worse for wear, Jones insisted there had been no major casualties.
The strapping on Sinckler’s leg was described as “precautionary”, but there was some bad news as Jones revealed after the match that Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell would not be available until the third or fourth pool match.
Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph are both expected to be fit and Marchant’s performance at outside centre, capped by a great individual try, showed he was ready to fill in if needed.
More to come
Despite heading to Japan on the back of three convincing home wins over Wales, Ireland and Italy, Jones insisted there was still more to come from this side.
He confessed a disappointing first-half display “looked like we were still eating pasta and pizza in Treviso” and compared their start to a “cricketer who had scored a hundred and wants to go out and play shots right from the start rather than build his innings again”, but was full of praise for the response and called it a “great learning experience”.
There was also high praise from his opposite number O’Shea, who suggested “the team that beats England will win the World Cup”.