England dismantled a disappointing Italy to give the Steve Borthwick era lift off with a 31-14 Guinness Six Nations victory at Twickenham.
Jack Willis was at the heart of a comprehensive bonus-point win, scoring the opening try and leading the defensive effort, two years after suffering career-threatening knee damage in the same fixture.
On that day his cries of pain rang out at an empty Twickenham after he was the victim of a ‘crocodile roll’ by Sebastian Negri, but that memory was swept away by leading the resistance against the Azzurri in his first start since an injury that forced him out for a year.
When the Toulouse flanker was replaced by Ben Earl in the 53rd minute, he had made 20 tackles, eight more than his closest challenger Kyle Sinckler.
Ollie Chessum, Jamie George and Henry Arundell crossed, in addition to a penalty try, to give Borthwick his first triumph since replacing Eddie Jones in December – his reign had started with defeat to Scotland.
Borthwick’s midfield surgery produced a better functioning unit with centres Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade both influential, although Owen Farrell failed to stamp his authority at fly-half as Marcus Smith watched on from the bench.
Smith eventually came on but it was for Slade with Farrell, his head bandaged to protect a wound sustained against Scotland, moving to inside centre.
Some of the victory’s gloss was rubbed away by Italy being allowed back into the game in the final quarter, but a simple finish for Arundell with 10 minutes to go quelled the uprising.
There was little evidence of the Azzurri’s recent resurgence in a one-sided clash and from an early stage England looked destined to preserve a flawless record against their rivals that now reads 30 wins.
Willis struck the first blow, barrelling over to finish a perfectly-executed line-out maul.
Farrell’s conversion opened up a 7-0 lead and having seen their line-out maul disintegrate, Italy were unable to make any headway during a lengthy spell in possession.
Having scored one line-out try down the left England attempted to repeat the success in a similar area, repeatedly turning down shots at goal in favour of the set-piece.
Number eight Lorenzo Cannone was sent to the sin-bin as Italy came under heavy pressure and they cracked again when waves of forward carries ended with Ellis Genge sending Chessum over.
There was no let-up as England renewed their attack, Lawrence making his presence felt in midfield, and they appeared to be over in the 35th minute thanks to Max Malins’ show and go – but an obstruction earlier in the move had been spotted by the officials.
However, the third try arrived soon enough with another line-out drive finishing when George touched down.
Italy started the second half with far greater purpose and they soon went over through prop Marco Riccioni but they were troubled by the hosts’ line-out once again, conceding a penalty try and seeing Simone Ferrari sent to the sin-bin.
Replacement Alessandro Fusco rounded off a lively spell from Italy by jinking over and suddenly they were making inroads by daring to attack from all sections of the pitch.
But England responded with Arundell racing over after fellow replacement Alex Mitchell had created the space with a sharp run, removing any tension.