You learn very little when England play Italy, goes the accepted wisdom – 23 matches between the two before this weekend, 23 wins for the men in white.

A 24th victory should offer little more – 46-15, the sort of margin this fixture routinely throws up. Except on a clear-blue Sunday in Rome there was enough that was different and much that was better than before.

No-one had doubted the bond between George Ford and Owen Farrell: childhood friends turned England age-group team-mates and then strolling together on the international stage, never overawed, always pushing each other on, at their best in harmony.

But there have been a few questions – about Ford’s club form, over whether he has been playing too deep and static for his national side in the past 12 months, whether Eddie Jones might one day give primacy to Farrell in the fly-half’s jersey and look for muscle outside rather than a second receiver.

The talk before this match had been of Ben Te’o and the missing punch he might bring to an England midfield that can sometimes get a little sideways.

And so answers came fast and early and flat and late. Two tries for Anthony Watson while the crowd was still settling, both of them created by Ford and Farrell working a wrap-around so smoothly that they might have been back on the street in Harpenden where they matured as teenage neighbours, delaying the maternal summons for tea until they had made 20 perfect passes.


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