Fisherman’s son Sam Simmonds netted two tries to cap a dream Six Nations debut for England.
Watched by 007 Daniel Craig, the rookie No.8 was given a license to thrill by Eddie Jones at Stadio Olimpico yesterday.
His response catapulted England to the top of the table and set up a Twickenham showdown with Wales on Saturday.
Simmonds made a game-high 23 tackles to put the holders into a winning position before switching from defence to attack to kill off Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri with a try double.
Not bad for a player whom Jones had thought too small to play No.8 and who this time last year was playing junior rugby for Cornish Pirates.
Life’s full of contradictions and he’s one of them,” beamed the Aussie, after the Exeter forward filled the sizeable void left by injured duo Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes
He’s a great discovery for us. He’s got gas, he does all our speed work with the backs and is just a completely humble boy.”
Which is what you might expect from someone who sleeps in the same bedroom at home that he has occupied since he was 13 – a 23-year-old who had not even made his Premiership debut a year ago.
He is a bit of a freak, isn’t he?” added clubmate Jack Nowell. “Up there with one of the quickest I have played with. He has got a backside, so that’s where the power comes from.”
Simmonds’ tour de force helped offset Red Rose disappointment at the loss of Ben Youngs with knee ligament damage on the day he overtook Matt Dawson’s record of most starts for an England scrum-half.
Youngs was stretchered off after 10 minutes and immediately ruled out of the Wales clash. It is likely to be a far longer lay-off than that and Richard Wigglesworth is expected to be called up.
Jones put a brave face on it after his 23rd win in 24 matches in charge.
He dwelt neither on the loss of Youngs nor the fairly ordinary defensive display of his team which allowed Italy to score two tries and stay in contention for an hour.
He focused instead on seven-try England’s scrum performance – the best, he said, since he’d taken charge.
On the two tries notched inside the first 12 minutes by Anthony Watson, whom once again he likened to a Maserati.
And on the midfield combination of George Ford and 16-point Owen Farrell , who pulled the strings throughout.
Ford looped around Farrell for both of Watson’s scores and the playmaking duo finished the game with tries of their own.
Nobody was getting carried away though. Wales will be an altogether different proposition – and England know it.