England on course for Six Nations title

It was England’s 17th successive victory and equaled the record of 10 in a row in the Five/Six Nations.

England score a try in the Six Nations match against Italy. Picture: @SixNationsRugby/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - England remain on course for back-to-back Six Nations grand slams after managing to find a way to overcome their own poor start and a gritty and inventive Italy with a late surge of tries to secure a 36-15 victory on Sunday.

England were sluggish and error-strewn in the first half and were lucky to trail only 10-5 at the break, with the home players left scratching their heads by Italy's innovative tactic of not competing at the ruck.

England eventually worked out how to get around an Italian approach that was condemned as "not rugby" by coach Eddie Jones and finally took command with three tries in the last 10 minutes, including two for replacement wing Jack Nowell.

England top the standings on 13 points after three wins. Ireland, who beat France on Saturday, are second on 10, with Scotland third on nine after a home win over Wales, who are fourth, level on five points with the fifth-placed French.

Italy are last and still seeking their first points.

It was England’s 17th successive victory and equaled the record of 10 in a row in the Five/Six Nations.

A win over Scotland at Twickenham in two weeks' time would put them level with the tier one world record New Zealand set before last November’s loss to Ireland and give England a chance to break that mark in their final game in Dublin on 18 March.

Jones was delighted his side remain on course for the title but fumed at Italy's tactic of not committing players to the breakdown, which ensured no ruck and that they could then loiter behind the ball and obstruct the pass without being offside.

England had no idea how to deal with it and when James Haskell asked referee Romain Poit for guidance, the Frenchman said: “I’m a referee, not a coach, you need to find a solution."

Jones bristled: "That wasn't rugby today, if that's rugby I'm going to retire, I don't want to be involved in that.

"If your halfback can't pass the ball there's something wrong with the game. If the 10 can't see the ball, how do you play rugby?" added the Australian.

The tactical controversy somewhat overshadowed a ragged display by England who somehow led with a Dan Cole try despite an error-strewn opening quarter.

Italy were fired up but their good work was not helped by the wayward kicking of Tommaso Allan, who missed three penalties, although the last of them at the end of the half hit the post and was gathered by Giovanbattista Venditti, who dived over for the try that earned a 10-5 halftime lead.

England came out far sharper in the second period and a quick tap and go try by Danny Care plus another by speedy wing Elliot Daly suddenly had them 17-10 up within seven minutes.

Italy struck back though, scoring in the second half for the first time in the championship as Michele Campagnaro ran through George Ford and left Mike Brown flailing for an excellent try.

England, however, took command as Italy tired. Nowell crossed for the key fourth try and Ben Te’o added the fifth after a great charge by prop Kyle Sinckler.

Nowell then showed his trademark slippery skills to sneak through for his second, with Owen Farrell, who missed four of his seven goal kicks on his 50th appearance, finally finding his range to convert and give the scoreline a polish.

Italy coach Conor O'Shea was unimpressed with England's complaints about their tactics.

"What do people want us to do? Be normal, lay down and get beaten? he asked. It's nothing new. When Australia or Toulouse did it it was fantastic, but when Italy do it it's wrong. We did not come here to roll over."