England nilled Italy in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game to record a landslide 37-0 victory that certainly flattered them, but the biggest concern at St James’ Park came late when Kyle Sinckler and Luke Cowan-Dickie limped off with injuries.
50,157 fans packed into the home of Newcastle United to watch England run four unanswered tries past a toothless Italy side, but the sight of two front-row forwards limping off – on top of a back injury to Joe Launchbury – will be of major concern for Eddie Jones ahead of Japan 2019.
The other major issue is how poor England were in a first half where they failed to muster a single try-scoring opportunity, instead relying on the boot of Owen Farrel to kick three penalties for a 9-0 half-time lead.
The hosts did at least manage to rectify their misfiring engine in the second half, with tries from Ben Youngs and Anthony Watson sandwiching debut international scores from Joe Marchant and Ellis Genge, while defensively they didn’t give Italy a sniff.
However, the sight of three players all being forced off – Sinckler in particular – will be enough to keep Jones up ahead of the squad’s departure to Japan on Sunday.
With England in new surroundings, the first half reflected the uncertainty of the occasion. England were flat, reluctant and playing well within themselves as an error-strewn Italy gave Farrell three opportunities to kick for goal – the third on the stroke of half-time drawing boos from the home fans who wanted to see more of the attacking variety of rugby.
By that point, Launchbury had already been removed, having tweaked his lower back when trying to clear out a ruck, but even more baffling came the decision at the same time to replace both props in Joe Marler and Dan Cole, as Genge and Sinckler entered the affray in the 33rd minute.
Youngs finally got up and running early in the second half when the scrum-half sniped from the base of a ruck, and thankfully for the Geordie faithful it opened the floodgates. Youngs turned provider for the second try as his neat pop pass set Marchant up to scythe through the Italian defence and beat three men to score his first international try between the uprights, before Genge found himself at the back of an unstoppable line-out maul that drove over for the third.
The fourth wrapped things up, proving the best of the bunch, as replacement lock Charlie Ewels received a long pass from George Ford, fashioned one of his own before delaying the delivery just enough to give Watson the time he needed to dance his way over at speed.
However, while England celebrated, Sinckler was limping off, and given his importance to this squad as starting tighthead, the next 48 hours will be crucial for not just the Harlequins prop, but England fans on the whole.
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