England 41 Italy 18: Red Rose bounce back but Jack Willis suffers horror injury

England predictably got back to winning ways today but victory against Italy was overshadowed by a horrific injury to flanker Jack Willis on his Six Nations debut.

By Dave Craven
Saturday, 13th February 2021, 5:06 pm
England Jonny May's scores his spectacular try against Italy. (David Rogers/Getty Images)
England Jonny May's scores his spectacular try against Italy. (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Anthony Watson (2), Jonny May - with a stunning finish - Jonny Hill, Willis and Elliot Daly all scored tries at Twickenham as the hosts recovered from their shock opening loss to Scotland.

But the game had to be held up for a significant period after Willis, the replacement forward, suffered an awful knee injury while competing for the ball at the breakdown in the 65th minute.

Players were visibly shocked - team-mate Ellis Genge had his head in his hands and others looked away - at the severity of the injury to the reigning Premiership Player of the Year.

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Willis, 24, had only been on the field seven minutes after replacing Courtney Lawes yet had already scored within moments of coming on, backing up after his Wasps team-mate Dan Robson quickly tapped a penalty.

However, soon after he was stretchered off - and winger Watson was left to pack down as an emergency No8.

England made numerous changes following that Scotland debacle but they did not look to have made any improvement when huge underdogs

cruised in with alarming ease to score the game’s opening try after just 144 seconds.

England's Jack Willis receives treatment after his serious knee injury suffered against Italy. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Winger Monty Ioane went over untouched in the left corner after the visitors created an overlap with such simplicity.

It was the worst possible start for Eddie Jones’ side but there was no panic and, by the 14th minute, they had edged ahead.

Owen Farrell slotted a penalty before Hill, the Exeter Chiefs lock, scored his first Test try on his sixth appearance.

The Red Rose, who showed more adventure with the ball in the opening quarter than they had the entire 80 minutes last week, created the position by shifting possession wide before Henry Slade slid in a kick.

England's Anthony Watson races away for his intercept try. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Hill then crabbed over from close range.

Paolo Garbisi levelled with a penalty but their field kicking was poor, aimlessly kicking away at times, much like England did a week previously.

From one of those misdirected kicks, Daly countered to find space on the left where May’s wonderful instant flick-on to Slade saw him advance.

The centre was hauled in but England - full of confidence even though not all their passing stuck - switched play back to the right.

Hill showed great skill to execute a long pass for Watson, the Bath star who immediately stepped arrow inside and score.

Italy struggled to pose any attacking threat after that early try although Billy Vunipola did come up with a timely tackle to thwart one dangerous raid and the England No8 also then charged down another kick which almost led to Slade putting Watson away.

Slade’s attempted popped pass off the ground went forward but England did achieve their third try with the last play of the half.

It was some play, too, as May, racing onto Daly’s astute pass, diced with the touchline before leaping over Luca Sperandio’s desperate flung arm to somehow squeeze in at the corner for a 20-11 interval lead.

It was the winger’s 32nd try in 63 games for England, taking him past Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen in the all-time list and leaving just Rory Underwood in front.

Garbisi added a penalty at the start of the second but just as Italy - who have now lost 28 successive Six Nations matches - looked to pose more problems, Watson eased the pressure as he intercepted the fly-half’s pass and raced 80m for his second.

Willis crossed for the bonus point try before his afternoon came to that painful end.

When play did finally resume, Italy scored immediately from the scrum, Federico Mori blasting through George Ford’s attempted tackle for Tommaso Allan to cut over on an excellent line.

The Azzurri kept at it and impressed for large parts but Daly finished things off after a long ball from Robson, the scrum-half who impressed off the bench.

England: Daly; Watson, Farrell, Slade, May; Ford, Youngs (Robson 51); M Vunipola (Genge 52), Cowan-Dickie (George 52), Sinckler (Stuart 74), Itoje, Hill (Ewels 51), Lawes (Willis 58 Malins 65), Curry, B Vunipola (Earls 59).

Italy: Trulla; Sperandio, Ignacio (Canna 59), Canna (Mori 51), Ioane; Garbisi (Allan 65), Varney (Palazzani 69); Lovotti (Fishetti 30), Bigi (Lucchesi 69), Riccioni (Zilocchi 16), Lazzaroni, Sisi (Ruzza 79), Negri (Ruzza 25), Meyer, Lamaro (Cannone 45).