6N: Tuilagi dominates as England thrash Italy 57-14

England's Joe Cokanasiga runs with the ball during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Italy's Federico Ruzza, center left, and England's George Kruis battle for a lineout during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
England's Brad Shields celebrates after scoring a try during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
England's George Kruis scores a try during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
England's Jonny May runs with the ball during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
England's Manu Tuilagi, left, gets away from Italy's Angelo Esposito to score a try during the Six Nations rugby union international match between England and Italy at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON — Italy knew exactly what to expect from England's powerful new-look backline. There was just nothing it could do to stop it.

Manu Tuilagi scored two tries in a dominant display as England thrashed Italy 57-14 on Saturday to keep its Six Nations title hopes intact.

Wing Joe Cokanasiga was equally impressive as England repeatedly breached the Italy defense in an eight-try victory at Twickenham.

"It was an unbelievably physically England," Italy coach Conor O'Shea said. "We were overpowered."

Italy backed up its pre-match promise to attack England when Tommaso Allan cancelled out Jamie George's opening score to level the scores after 12 minutes, but that was as good as it got for the winless visitor.

England secured a four-tries bonus point by halftime with further scores from Jonny May, Tuilagi, and Brad Shields, who claimed his first international try.

Tuilagi, who has reestablished himself as a key player for England having recovered from years of injury problems, added his second score after the interval.

Italy, which has lost its last 21 Six Nations matches, grabbed a consolation through Luca Morisi, but England put further gloss on the result with tries from George Kruis, replacement scrumhalf Dan Robson, and a second Shields score.

To win the title, England needs Wales to slip up against Ireland in the final round next weekend. Wales, which beat England in the previous round, remained on track for a Grand Slam with an 18-11 win over Scotland.

Coach Eddie Jones opted to pair Tuilagi with the imposing Ben Te'o in midfield, while Cokanasiga was inserted in place of the injured Jack Nowell.

Cokanasiga quickly showed the alternative dimension he offers. He earned a penalty deep in Italy's 22 with a chase-down tackle and then made a break from midfield, before delivering an offload that should have resulted in a try — all in the first six minutes.

"The physicality of the game is getting greater and greater and if you've got big people that can move fast and have skill, it's pretty advantageous," Jones said.

Moments later, a lineout maul resulted in George being shunted over.

Italy took advantage of its first foray into England's half when Allan exploited a gap to squeeze over in the corner. His conversion from the touchline leveled the scores.

However, Italy was unable to back it up, as three missed tackles allowed Elliot Daly to break through and set up May to restore England's lead immediately.

After a quiet opening quarter upon returning to his natural position at outside center, Tuilagi suddenly imposed himself by bulldozing through Italy wing Angelo Esposito's tackle on halfway and handing off Michele Campagnaro and sprinting clear for his first England try in five years.

"The boys love playing with him," Jones said. "We're so happy he's fit and ready to go."

Captain Owen Farrell, who made five of his six goalkicks, added a penalty to make it 24-7.

Tuilagi turned provider, his skill bamboozling Allan, then passing inside to give Shields a simple finish as England secured a bonus point after just 32 minutes and went in with a 31-7 halftime advantage.

It was more of the same after the interval as Cokanasiga broke through Italy's defense, allowing England to work the ball wide via an impressive skip-pass from hooker George to find Tuilagi on the wing for his second score.

Italy took advantage of a brief drop in intensity from England to add a second try as Allan found Morisi out wide, but England responded with a final flourish.

Lock George Kruis scored from his own chargedown, Cokanasiga set up replacement Robson, and another Kruis chargedown fell perfectly into the hands of Shields for his second score.

Tuilagi's future with England has come into question in recent weeks, with speculation growing he could sacrifice his international career to play for a French club after the Rugby World Cup this year.

England is considering special measures to make sure he's available next weekend for the tournament finale against Scotland.

"We've taken his passport," Jones joked. "So he's not getting to France next week."

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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