Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, prefers to look forwards rather than backwards, but he could not help drawing a parallel between his side’s seven-try breeze past the Azzurri yesterday and the windswept performance they turned in against the same opposition a year ago, when they almost found themselves stranded on the rocks.
“We needed six penalties to beat Italy in last season’s championship – and that was at Twickenham,” said the Cumbrian. “To win like this in Rome is a mark of real progress.”
Lancaster was not 100 per cent happy – “We didn’t nail everything we wanted to nail by any stretch of the imagination,” he remarked – but his contentment levels were not too far short of the maximum.
“I don’t think anyone has come here recently and won by this kind of score,” he went on, “and to do it after a short turnaround from our game against Wales, which used up a lot of our energy, emotional as well as physical, is very satisfying. When you think that we have quality players to add, including a number of Test Lions, we’re in good shape.”
Pressed on his decision to ring the personnel changes off the bench in the final quarter, when England were big points up and showing signs of scoring plenty more, the coach defended himself with a passion.
“Tell me who among our substitutes failed to add something,” he said. “Didn’t Manu Tuilagi add? Didn’t our scrum take command? Didn’t Dave Attwood (the Bath lock) make a 50-metre break? Didn’t George Ford (the 20-year-old outside-half making his second international appearance) create the final try?
“We don’t plan our substitutions in advance. We react to what we see as the match unfolds and we thought those were the right calls to make.”