England produced a dominant display to beat Italy 31-14 in a bonus-point victory in the Six Nations at Twickenham; Head coach Steve Borthwick dropped Marcus Smith and moved Owen Farrell to fly-half, allowing Ollie Lawrence to come in at inside centre
Last Updated: 13/02/23 12:10pm
Owen Farrell has hailed the impact of Ollie Lawrence as England saw tentative evidence against Italy that they may have found the solution to their inside centre problem.
Lawrence was England’s most effective carrier in the 31-14 victory at Twickenham, amassing 83 metres from his 11 runs, the majority of it into the heavy traffic, breaking eight tackles in the process.
It was a continuation of the form he has shown for Bath since his move from Worcester in October, rewarding Steve Borthwick’s decision to dispense with the contentious Marcus Smith-Farrell creative axis in favour of a better balanced midfield trio.
By repeatedly getting England over the gainline, a player who was never given a proper chance by Borthwick’s predecessor Eddie Jones has indicated there is an alternative to Manu Tuilagi as a bulldozing centre.
The 23-year-old made an impression on his captain as he excelled in a position that, due to a peculiarity of the English game, has not been filled convincingly since Will Greenwood retired in 2014.
“Ollie he did really well, he played the way he’s been playing for his club – destructive,” said Farrell, who was operating from his preferred position of fly-half.
“I remember playing against him at the start of the season for Saracens at our place and he was holding the ball in one hand and batting everyone off like he did against Italy.
“It was good to see him break the line against Italy and get us on the front foot.”
Just behind Lawrence as England’s most potent carrier in the maiden victory of the Borthwick era was number eight Alex Dombrandt, another player who was unable to convince Jones of his value.
The Harlequin has started Borthwick’s first two games in charge, beating Sam Simmonds to a place in the back row, with Billy Vunipola exiled once again.
It is another position that has suffered from frequent change once Vunipola’s grip on the jersey was loosened and after overcoming a string of injuries that forced him out of the July tour to Australia and the autumn, Dombrandt is hoping to secure a run of games.
“I’ve been working hard in training and really trying to improve my all-round game, so to have that backing from Steve is massively important,” Dombrandt said.
“I try to repay that on the training ground, preparing the team well, and hopefully on game day putting in good performances.
“The start of the season for me personally was a bit frustrating because of a knee injury. Then I came back for a couple of games but tore my hamstring.
“I feel like I play my best rugby when I get into a rhythm of games and I feel like I’m starting to play games consistently which is always a good thing for me.
“But I’m still looking to improve my all-round game and just keep going.”
England head to Cardiff on February 25 to face a struggling Wales who are yet to get a win in this year’s championship (4.45pm). For Italy, a home clash awaits against Grand Slam hopefuls Ireland (2.15pm).