Monday 25 March 2019

Cokanasiga runs riot in Italy mauling

England 57 Italy 14

Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Italy - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 9, 2019 England's Manu Tuilagi scores their fifth try Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborr‡
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v Italy - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 9, 2019 England's Manu Tuilagi scores their fifth try Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborr‡

Daniel Schofield

So big can be beautiful as England's supersized back line mixed power and panache to keep their Six Nations title hopes alive. Long before the end, Italy were left shellshocked by the onslaught of the white-shirted heavy artillery.

Centre Manu Tuilagi ran in two tries for the first time in seven years for England while Joe Cokanasiga ran riot on the right wing. Afterwards the pair seemed locked in a struggle over who should wear the man-of-the-match medal, officially awarded to Cokanasiga but who attempted to put it around Tuilagi's neck. Both were magnificent.

There was a good reason why Conor O'Shea, the Italy head coach, called this Eddie Jones' "full metal jacket" of a backline. Cokanasiga tips the scales above the fighting weight of Anthony Joshua, the heavyweight champion of the world. Add in the 34st centre combination of Te'o and Tuilagi and it was clear that Jones intended to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

And crack Italy did, shipping eight tries in all. England registered the bonus point by the 31st minute. Perhaps inspired by memories of the embarrassment Italy caused on their last visit in 2017 with their no ruck tactics, England seemed determined to keep their foot on Italy's throat - running in a further four tries in the second half. A similar result against Scotland next week at Twickenham will ratchet up the pressure on Wales before their late kick-off against Ireland.

Context is important. Italy, whose record losing run in the Six Nations now extends to 21 games, were very ordinary opposition. Not every defence will make Tuilagi and Cokanasiga look like such unstoppable wrecking balls. But now we know the damage they can do. Cokanasiga, especially, will seem undroppable on this form. Comparisons with Jonah Lomu are made with every winger over 17 stone. While not wishing to add to this particular cliché, it is impossible not to picture the great man when Cokanasiga is brutalising the opposition like this. Big Joe will stalk the nightmares of poor Angelo Esposito for weeks to come.

England's wing options have never run deeper from the speed of Jonny May, the work-rate of Jack Nowell to the finishing instinct of Chris Ashton. Yet Cokanasiga offers something unique with his combination of power and skill. Jones has frequently referenced the example of Nehe Milner-Skudder who emerged from seemingly nowhere for New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup. Cokanasiga might just be the bolter he has been looking for.

Frequently, these type of games can be poisoned chalices for those given the opportunity: play well and it is what is expected against substandard opposition, fail to impress and you can disappear without a trace. Ten years ago, openside flanker Steffon Armitage started his first Six Nations in a match that had precious little structure because of the ill-fated Mauro Bergamasco scrumhalf experiment.

He never started another. More recently, Alex Lozowski, the Saracens centre, and Zach Mercer, the Bath No 8, were withdrawn during the 35-15 victory against Japan and have not been seen since.

The combination of Owen Farrell, Te'o and Tuilagi - the 15th different midfield combination of Jones' reign - displayed a lot more subtlety than they were previously given credit for. Tuilagi especially looked far more dangerous in the open spaces of the outside centre channel. On this occasion, the bludgeon worked perfectly. Jones must now decide whether this is the weapon he will wield through to the World Cup.Telegraph

Scorers - England: Tuilagi, Shields 2 tries each, George, May, Kruis, Robson try each; Farrell pen, 6 cons; Ford 2 cons. Italy: Allan try, 2 cons, Morisi try.

England: Daly; Cokanasiga, Tuilagi (Slade 62), Te'o, May; Farrell (Ford 62), Youngs (Robson 62), Genge (Cowan-Dickie 59), George (Moon 59), Sinckler (Cole 56), Launchbury (Hughes 66), Kruis, Shields, Curry (Wilson 56), B Vunipola.

Italy: Hayward; Padovani, Campagnaro, Morisi (Palazzani 62), Esposito; Allan, Tebaldi, Lovotti (Traori 46), Bigi (Ghiraldini 49), Ferrari, Ruzza, Budd (Sisi 49), Negri (Polledri 49), Steyn, Parisse.

Referee: N Berry (Australia).

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