The Aviva Premiership Rugby’s starlets hit their straps as England began the World Rugby Under-20 Championship with a resounding win over Italy.
Harry Mallinder – who made his breakthrough for Northampton Saints last season – starred with a man-of-the-match performance and 12 points off the tee, while Harlequin Joe Marchant was also on the scoresheet in a six-try win.
Marchant’s clubmate, Sam Aspland-Robinson, helped the hosts to a 17-3 half-time lead after Sale Sharks’ George Nott opened the scoring for England at the Manchester City Academy Stadium.
Worcester Warriors’ Jack Singleton, Bath Rugby's Zach Mercer and a penalty try rounded off the scoring for Martin Haag’s men, with Lorenzo Masselli crossing in the final few minutes for a late Italian consolation.
Flanker Nott brought the game to life with a brilliant solo try to open the scoring, cutting through the Italy line inside his own half and showing an immense turn of pace to score himself under the posts.
The Azzurri put up a good fight in the first half however, knocking on when a try looked certain before Leonardo Mantelli’s long-range drop goal closed the gap.
But Mallinder’s wonderful vision and cross-field kick sent Aspland-Robinson over in the corner, before he converted and slotted a penalty through the posts to give the tournament hosts a 14-point lead at the break.
The Red Rose picked up where they left off in the second half, with another penalty for Mallinder before a thrilling handling move gave Marchant the chance to outpace the Italian defence in the right-hand corner.
A scrum infringement in the corner then gave England a vital bonus-point, and Singleton burrowed his way over the whitewash off the back of a driving maul, with replacement Max Malins of Saracens knocking over the conversion.
Will Stuart saw his effort chalked off by the TMO after a supreme show of strength to blast through several Italian tackles, but there was still time for another converted try from Mercer.
Perhaps the only negative for Haag in his first game in charge of the side was the sight of another debutant, London Irish fly-half Theo Brophy-Clews, leaving the field during the first half with an ankle injury.
It was a fine start for the 2013 and 2014 champions, but their work to get out of the Pool stage is far from over with both Scotland – who defeated them in the Under-20s Six Nations – and Australia to come.
The Red Rose’s north of the border rivals are up next, with Bath Rugby’s Adam Hastings chipping in five points in a hugely impressive win for the Scots over the Wallabies in their opening clash.
England: 15 Darren Atkins, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Harry Mallinder (c), 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Theo Brophy-Clews, 9 Max Green, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Jack Willis, 6 George Nott, 5 Huw Taylor, 4 Andrew Kitchener, 3 Billy Walker, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Tom West
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Zach Mercer, 20 Josh Bainbridge, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Johnny Williams, 23 Max Malins
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Dario Schiabel, 13 Roberto dal Zilio, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Leonardo Mantelli, 9 Riccardo Raffaele, 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Lorenzo Robin Masselli, 5 Leonardo Krumov, 4 Davide Fragnito, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Engjel Makelara, 1 Daniele Rimpelli
Replacements: 16 Damiano Borean, 17 Niccolò Broglia, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Samuel Ortis, 20 Davide Ciotoli, 21 Matteomaria Panunzi, 22 Andrea Bronzini, 23 Lorenzo Masato
Tries: Nott, Aspland-Robinson, Marchant, Singleton, Mercer
Cons: Brophy Clews, Mallinder 3, Malins 2
Pen: Mallinder 2
Drop Goal: Mantelli
Yellow Card: Borean
Referee: Juan Sylvestre (Argentina)
Assistant Referees: Craig Evans (Wales), John Meredith (England), TMO: John Mason (Wales)
See the Future Stars of Rugby at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit http://www.englandrugby.com/u20championships/ #WorldRugbyU20s