By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Hooker Jamie George scored a hat-trick of identical rolling maul tries as England swept aside a spirited but limited Georgia 40-0 in their opening Autumn Nations Cup match at a rain-lashed and eerily quiet fan-free Twickenham on Saturday.
Flanker Jack Willis marked his debut with a try, while Elliot Daly, in a rare moment of backline enterprise, and replacement scrumhalf Dan Robson also crossed in a predictably one-sided contest.
England will consider it a job well done - an efficient victory where they nullified the famed Georgian scrum threat and never looked remotely like conceding a try - but it was a performance that certainly lacked sparkle, albeit in a game played in difficult conditions.
"It was great team performance," George said. "We were fully aware of their ability up front, how much pride they take in their set piece and how physical they would be. Most pleasing for me was forwards-wise was that we stepped up to the plate.
"We are back here at Twickenham, missing the crowd massively, but we constantly try to push it with our set piece so it was great to get over the line."
It was a bizarre atmosphere in the cavernous 82,000-capacity stadium, the triple-decker stands of green seats punctuated only by two giant cloth poppies and a colourful collection of club shirts.
After 15 minutes of virtual non-stop, but uninspired, England forward pressure, the sturdy Georgian defence finally cracked when flanker Willis bundled over for the opening try.
England continued to dominate possession but too often kicked it away with speculative chips and grubbers and, had there been the usual November crowd, it would have been getting restless.
However, once the forwards took control again, two powerful lineout drives sent George over for two tries in three minutes.
The backs finally got going shortly before halftime when Jonathan Joseph carved a lovely line to set up Daly to score in the corner, unfortunately Joseph picking up an injury in the act and having to go off just before his team mates jogged off 26-0 up.
The rain started to lash down harder in the second half and Georgia got their hands on the ball for a while, albeit without ever threatening the England line.
The hosts then reverted to their most effective weapon as George was mauled over for his hat-trick after 58 minutes and Robson, one of a host of replacements Eddie Jones sent on, threw a neat dummy from a ruck to score 10 minutes later.
There was no late flurry of tries, however, as the game dribbled to a close.
For the Georgians, playing at Twickenham for the first time, it will be something of a landmark game, but few of the absent England fans are likely to be talking about it in the days to come, let alone years.
England will face a stiffer test next week when they host Ireland, while Georgia, revelling in a rare opportunity for a series of games against Tier One opposition, play Wales.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)