England’s latest “new era” got off to a spectacular start on Saturday as they ran in 11 tries to crush an outclassed Tonga 69-3 in their first game in front of a Twickenham full house since March 2020.
Jamie George, Jonny May and Ben Youngs each scored twice while Adam Radwan, Maro Itoje, Marcus Smith, Jamie Blamire and debutant Alex Mitchell also crossed as Tonga, hit by yellow and red cards, eventually collapsed.
After the turgid, kick-dominated displays of the last 12 months, coach Eddie Jones had promised a more adventurous England and, even taking into account the less-than-challenging opposition, there certainly seemed to be a willingness to play with the ball.
Jones said: “We saw the mindset of being aggressive in attacking the opportunities. The mechanics will be the fine tuning – and we don’t need to see the end of that until the seventh game of the World Cup.
“We were prepared to put in the effort when it probably wasn’t needed, which is good. In the second half the result wasn’t in the mix so you have to dig deep in yourself to find something and I think we went harder in the second half than the first.”
The absence of Owen Farrell after a positive COVID test proved somewhat fortuitous as George Furbank, long touted as a potential international flyhalf by Jones, stepped in for his first international start there and enjoyed pulling the strings and throwing in some of the breaks that have made him such a dangerous fullback.
He then made way for Smith to deliver a sparkling 30-minute cameo as the Twickenham fans got a good glimpse of what they hope will be the man to drive the team all the way to the next World Cup.
“They went really well – it was a difficult game for those two guys after the bulk of the training had been done by Owen but they acquitted themselves well and we’re really pleased with their progress,” Jones said
Jones will have been just as delighted by the stellar displays of some of his stalwarts, not least Courtney Lawes, who was hugely authoritative, befitting his role as captain for the day, the returning Manu Tuilagi, at his bullocking best after another long injury absence, and evergreen scrumhalf Youngs on his 110th appearance.
Tonga replacement Viliami Fine was red carded 12 minutes from time for a wild shoulder into the face of a prone Smith.
England will face a far stiffer task next week against Australia, albeit seeking an eighth successive win against them, and Lawes, likely to remain as captain as Farrell serves his time in isolation, was already excited about it.
“It is going to be a great game,” he said. “I believe we can go toe to toe with anyone, we have a bit to learn but I am looking forward very much to next week.”