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6 Nations

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

Leinster Star Considering Options as IRFU Talks Continue

Leinster could be set to lose another club legend with the IRFU playing hardball on a new contract

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rob Kearney is looking into all options with his current IRFU contract due to expire after this year’s World Cup

The Ireland and Leinster full-back was missing from Leo Cullen’s list of blues players that have signed new contracts ahead of next season.

Kearney’s manager Dave McHugh has confirmed that discussions are continuing with the IRFU and that the player would like to remain with Leinster.

“Discussions are ongoing with Leinster and the IRFU. We had hoped to have reached a conclusion by now. The discussion is live and open. But it has led us to check other options. We are still hopeful of reaching an agreement with the IRFU and Leinster,” he said.

It is believed that at least two French teams are weighing up the signature of Kearney, where he would earn a massive salary compared to his current contract with McHugh admitting that the money has a part to play.

“The IRFU has made Rob an offer. But if I am honest, it is well below where it needs to be – well below. It has been a little protracted. We are struggling to get it to a point where it makes sense for him,” he added.

At 33, Kearney is nearing the twilight of his glittering career but both he and McHugh want him to continue playing while he is still well able.

“It is Rob’s goal to continue playing rugby while he is fit and healthy and well. He is a starter both for his country and for his province. We need it to make sense for him. We appreciate there is an end point to his rugby playing career. But it isn’t yet,” he said.

With 21 contracts being announced yesterday McHugh explained that Kearney was absent as there isn’t the same urgency in his talks as there has been with other players.

“Rob is contracted to the end of the World Cup, so I guess we’re not in the same rush that Leinster were to announce their 21 new contracts for the start of next season. He wouldn’t return to the province until after the World Cup, so there isn’t the same urgency from our perspective,” he concluded.

Kearney’s future has been under much speculation for some time now and there was fuel added to the fire when teammate Sean O’Brien posted a possible farewell message on his Instagram.

O’Brien himself leaves for London Irish come the end of the season and unless the IRFU budge in Kearney’s discussions it appears as though Leinster could lose yet another one of their most decorated players.

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6 Nations

Leinster and Ireland Star Signs New Contract

One of Ireland’s key men has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Cian Healy has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU to remain with Leinster and Ireland until the summer of 2021.

The prop is one of the country’s most consistent performers and is delighted to have the opportunity to continue representing both province and country.

“Pulling on a Leinster or an Ireland jersey is something that I have always taken a huge amount of pride in and I am thankful for every opportunity I get. I am delighted therefore to have extended my IRFU contract and to continue to line out for Leinster. I believe that we have built something special at Leinster and with the national team and I want to contribute as best I can to both teams in what will be a hugely exciting few months and years ahead,” he said.

Healy has faced a number of serious injuries over the years but has thanked everyone at club and national level for their support and looks forward to the future with both.

“There has been some difficult times over the last few years for me personally with injury but the support within the Leinster and the Irish rugby family was very humbling from fellow players, coaches and supporters and it’s something that I won’t forget. It made this decision all the easier knowing that I was part of something bigger than just a rugby team. I hope to play my part in helping Leinster and Ireland achieve further success over the next few years and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in that journey,” he added.

Having been capped by Ireland 88 times since his debut in 2009 and holding 207 Leinster caps to his name already Healy is almost ever-present and IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora paid tribute to his consistency.

“Cian is performing at a very high level week in and week out. He works incredibly hard in ensuring that he is physically in the best condition to perform and has bounced back from adversity to return to the top of the international and club game. He will continue to be a leading performer for Ireland and Leinster over the coming years,” he said.

Healy has represented Ireland at two World Cups (2011 and 2015) and will be hoping to be heading to a third in Japan later this year, he also represented the British and Irish Lions in 2013.

As well as that Healy has a host of winner’s medals to his name with three Six Nations Championships in the bag for Ireland, while with Leinster he has won four European Cups, three Guinness Pro titles and a Challenge Cup.

Healy will be hoping to end the week on a high when he has the chance to add a fourth league title to his name as Leinster head to Celtic Park to face Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 14 final.

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6 Nations

O’Shea to be Replaced as Italy Head Coach

Conor O’Shea is set to pass on the reins following the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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(Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Cheetahs Rugby appear to have confirmed that head coach Franco Smith will replace Conor O’Shea as Italy’s head coach after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

The Italian Rugby Federation are yet to comment on the matter. However, the South African side have made the announcement and wished their current head coach the best of luck in a deal that is set to run until 2023.

“Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from 1 January 2020. The Board of Directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs. The Board of Directors is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next world cup in 2023,” they said in a statement.

The statement also confirmed that Smith will remain with the Cheetahs for the Currie Cup to provide a smooth take-over in management, with the new head coach to come in for the start of the Pro 14 season.

Former Ireland international O’Shea has been in charge of the Italians since 2016 but has led them on a run of 22 Six Nations defeats in a row.

However, it remains to be seen whether O’Shea who has earned praise from the likes of Italy captain and legend Sergio Parisse for his work behind the scenes, will be offered a different role with the men in blue.

In his current role he is more of a director of rugby overseeing more than just the men’s national side and there has been huge development on the club scene with Benetton reaching the Pro 14 play-offs for the first time ever this season.

Having performed in a directing role at both London Irish and Harlequins before it would allow O’Shea to focus on one task and may even benefit the country’s development. Either way he will hope to finish on a high when his side head to Japan later in the year.

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