Owen Farrell praised the “brilliant” Sam Simmonds after the Exeter No.8 marked his Six Nations debut with two tries in champions England’s opening 46-15 win away to Italy on Sunday.
Simmonds, earning just his fourth cap, was only in the starting XV following injuries to Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes.
But the 23-year-old more than justified the faith shown in him by coach Eddie Jones, with his second-half double part of England’s match-haul of seven tries that saw them launch their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright Six Nations title in style.
Simmonds may be some two stone (12 kilograms) lighter than Vunipola but he still made his presence felt against an Italy back-row featuring Sergio Parisse, one of the outstanding No8s of his generation.
“Sam Simmonds was brilliant,” Farrell told ITV Sport. “He’s quick and powerful and we’re pleased to have him in our squad.”
Anthony Watson’s try-double inside 11 minutes put England 10-0 up with Farrell, unusually, failing to convert either score, albeit both kicks were from the right touchline.
But the Saracens centre eventually found his range and also scored a try on the way to a 16-point return.
“I’m happy. It’s good that we built through the game and got better and better,” Farrell said after his 58th England cap.
“We’ll improve. It’s a good start to a campaign. Now we go away and work for next week,” he added ahead of England’s clash with Wales at Twickenham on February 10.
Italy may now have lost all 24 of their Tests against England but they were only 17-10 down at half-time.
Former England captain Will Carling said he’d been impressed by Italy’s attacking threat.
“Whatever the final score Italians have been tough opponents – offering far more in the backs these days,” Carling, a centre in his playing days, tweeted.
Farrell agreed, saying: “It felt like they were spending time in our half early on, they put some press on us.
“But our lads held out and we built and built.”