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WATCH: England demolish Italy with bonus-point victory | Highlights & Post Match

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Written by Oliver Green
photo by John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus via Getty Images

England kept their Six Nation’s title hopes alive with a 57-14 battering of a poor Italy side.

Eddie Jones’ side are now just one point behind leaders Wales, who scraped past Scotland earlier in the day.

With Italy struggling to cope with England’s heavyweight back line, Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields both scored twice in an eight-try victory.

Jamie George, Jonny May, George Kruis and Dan Robson also crossed for tries as Italy capitulated under pressure from England’s giant runners.

21-year-old winger Joe Cokanasiga was in terrific form as he caused Italy endless problems with his strong running and offloading.

Tommaso Allen and Luca Moris scored consolation tries for a dismal Italian side that had shown vast improvement in previous Six Nations games this year.

It was a 25th loss to England in 25 games, and lengthens the time since their last Six Nations win to four years.

England will go into the final game-week knowing that a Wales loss against Ireland will put the title in their hands – they will then have to overcome Scotland to claim the trophy.

How it happened

England started the game at a tremendous pace, pinning the Italians back with strong early running.

Cokanasiga was immediately involved, leaping highest to claim Owen Farrell’s clever kick-off.

The Bath winger then showed the finesse he possesses in addition to his brute strength, attempting an audacious one-handed offload that Tom Curry was unable to collect.

The all-action start from England set the tone for the game, and they were very nearly rewarded when Curry touched down in the corner, only for the try to be ruled out for a forward pass.

England’s attack was relentless though, with the Azzurri struggling to find answers to a monstrous centre partnership of Tuilagi and Ben Te’o, weighing a combined 34-stone.

Italy’s defence succumbed after eight minutes as a rumbling England maul saw Jamie George bundle over the line.

Twickenham was briefly stunned by Italy’s response though, as Allan evaded the English defence with a clever dummy and held off Ben Young’s to score with their first attack.

The home of English rugby breathed a sigh of relief just a minute later however, as May was released on the wing by Elliott Daly to score his 5th try of the competition.

Then, after just over 20 minutes, England broke down Italy’s feeble defence for a third time – this time it was Tuilagi bagging his first score in an England shirt since 2014.

The Leicester Tigers man, playing at 13 for the first time this tournament, shrugged off two tackles on the halfway line and a raced clear to score.

Farrell added three more points from the tee, before the bonus-point was sealed after just half an hour.

Tuilagi was involved again – this time feeding flanker Brad Shields after another strong carry.

Shields slid over the line for his first ever Test try.

Farrell then added the extras to send England 31-7 up at the interval.

England flew out of the blocks after the break at a similarly blistering pace to the first – Cokanasiga was instrumental again, this time with rampaging run down the middle, swatting away three different Italy defenders.

Ben Youngs recycled after the winger was finally brought down, giving it to Farrell who had the awareness to pick out Tuilagi on the wing, who duly scored his second of the game.

Then, in similar fashion to the first half, Italy responded immediately.

Conor O’Shea’s side showed a glimpse of the attacking rugby that saw them lead Ireland at halftime to reach the England five metre line.

Morisi eventually dived over in the corner after a slick backline move to offer the Italians a brief reprieve.

A number of England changes as the clock ticked past the hour mark saw their attack revitalised.

Kruis’ hard work was rewarded when he charged down Jayden Hayward’s kick and collected the loose ball to score under the posts.

England made it seven after a Cokanasiga raid down the touchline, with the 18-stone winger passing to scrum-half Robson who ran over from ten metres out to score his first international try.

Back-rower Shields then completed the rout, benefitting from another charge down from Kruis as he collected the ball to score England’s eighth and final try of the day.

The result leaves everything to play for in the final games, with England, Wales and Ireland all able to secure the title.

For England, the Calcutta Cup will not be the trophy on the forefront of their minds when they face Scotland at Twickenham next week.

Post-match reaction

Eddie Jones said; “It was a good response after Wales. We left a bit out there, there’s a bit disappointment with certain aspects but we are looking forward to Scotland.

“We used the whole 23, we could have used the finishers better against Wales, and that was my fault, but they all made a contribution.

“Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi are good players, and Joe Cokanasiga is only going to improve. We are so blessed to have Brad Shields and Mark Wilson who can play six, there is great competition for places for next week.

“Next week will be like a grand final, it’ll be exciting. We cannot control what happens in the other game, but we can control what happens against Scotland. We’ll have a couple of days off, but then get into it on Monday.”

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea said; “It was difficult. That was an incredibly powerful England performance. We tried to play and we created a lot when we had the opportunity, but there was too much power out there.

“I’m immensely proud of all of these boys because they never stopped trying. We’ll reset easily before France. We’ll see what we’ve got in terms of players upright.

“What you saw out there was a lot of people who played until the end. I wouldn’t get too carried away with the scoreline against us.

“It was straight one-on-one tackles that cost us dearly but there were some individuals who put in an incredible shift for us.”

Jones calls for Six Nations relegation

The England head-coach said that relegation should be considered following his sides demolition of an Italian side that hasn’t won a game in the competition since 2015.

“They should always consider rewarding merit,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme.

“It doesn’t matter what competition you’re in.”

Tournament chief Ben Morel stated in February that relegation is not being considered, and there are no plans to add any other teams.

Georgia, who are currently placed above Italy in the International rankings, are keen to be included.

Jones added: “The organisers talk about the Six Nations being the best rugby competition in the world, and it probably is close to it.

“But to improve it you’ve got to find a way of making sure you’ve got the six best teams in Europe always playing in it. “If that involves relegation then it’s something that should be looked at very closely.”

Match Highlights:

6 Nations

Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
 
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
 
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. 
 
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing.  We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
 
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
 
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news.  We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us. 
 
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
 
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.

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6 Nations

RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO

My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.

Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.  

IMPACT

To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:

•       An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.  

•       Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.

•       A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).  

•       The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years. 

We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice. 

We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.

The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration

Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.

No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.

The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country. 

The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.

Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.

WELFARE  

We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels. 

We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.

I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.

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6 Nations

Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus

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(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.

“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”

A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.

“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.

“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”

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