George Ford has tipped the new-look England midfield to find their Test match feet as the Six Nations cranks up.
England leaked two poor tries from a defensive standpoint as Italy cut up Steve Borthwick’s men too easily in a stunning first half in Rome on Saturday.
New defence coach Felix Jones has brought in a new blitz system, where for the first time ever England are flying off the line to squeeze opponents on the spot.
Timing that sprint as a unit remains crucial to the system prevailing, and England lost their rhythm en route to both those first-half tries conceded.
England turned deficits of 10-0 then 17-8 into a 27-17 lead as the clock ticked past full-time at the Stadio Olimpico, only for Italy to strike in the fifth minute of added time.
A 10-point lead was cut down to a margin of just three, adding an extra level of frustration for Borthwick and his new-look coaching team.
But fly-half Ford has insisted that the inside-back trio of himself and centres Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade can still cut the Test-match mustard.
All three players possess largely similar and creative skill sets, but England still believe they can draw sufficient straight-line physicality from the new midfield.
“I thought Fraser played really well, and it was great to play with Sladey again, he’s been on fire this season,” said Sale fly-half Ford.
“Both have great skill sets and are really good defenders as well. With Fraser wining his first cap you do try to take more of a leadership, experienced role.
“But that was throughout the whole team as well, with people like Jamie George and Maro Itoje, we tried to lead as best we could.”
Ford insisted it was England’s response to leaking those two first-half tries that points their way forward for a Six Nations that will only ramp up in terms of intensity and difficulty.
“I felt we were pretty solid, and the main positive for me was how we responded to them scoring tries, which was great,” said Ford.
“We felt good when we were trying to fire shots in attack, and then we controlled the game largely in the second half.
“I know the scoreboard says it was very close, but that second half we felt we were pretty comfortable.”
Former Ireland full-back Jones proved his coaching credentials by forming a crucial part of South Africa’s back-to-back World Cup triumphs.
The 36-year-old has been hailed as among the most intense and committed people in rugby by Borthwick – and that coming from a man in the England boss who is a workaholic himself.
England’s players seem enthused by a new regime built on the attitude of refusing to die wondering, but Ford admitted Jones’ new system will need time to bed in.
“The system is difficult to do, because it takes a lot of getting off the line, getting back to then go again,” said Jones.
“Physically, it’s very demanding. That was our first game trying to do it.
“We want to take time and space off the opposition and try to force errors ultimately, and try to get the ball back as quickly as possible.
“It’s an aggressive defence, and we did get it wrong a couple of times. But also we forced some errors as well, so it’s a good base from us to work from.”