Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Referee: Jerome Garces
Italy’s opening game of the tournament was truly a game of two halves, with the Azzurri looking competitive throughout the opening 40 minutes, but then allowed the French to run away with the game after the interval. Whilst the tireless work of his forwards in both defence and attack will have pleased new coach Jacques Brunel, but the amount of missed tackles from his backs will have been a cause for concern. Brunel will be hoping that the inclusion of veteran Gonzalo Canale and the extra week spent together will have helped his inexperienced backs improve their cohesion both with and without the ball.
With a good but not perfect defence and fairly uninspiring attack, England’s start to the Six Nations was far from excellent. The scrum worked well, whilst the lineout stuttered, but the real area of alarm is the breakdown, where England were not physical enough to handle Scotland, and therefore struggled to both maintain or turnover possession. Against an Italian side with over 700 caps and featuring heavyweights such as Parisse, Zanni and Ghiraldini, the concern is obvious. England will have to be ferocious, but maintain their discipline from the week before. Get that right, and their wingers will hopefully be running at some tired forwards’ legs.
What to Expect:
England to try and give Italy’s pack the runaround. Stuart Lancaster spoke about either holding them in the centre of the pitch, or making them work from ruck to ruck to create mismatches for Strettle, Ashton and Foden, the same way Rougerie for France exploited them for the first try last weekend. Italy will hope to enjoy the same superiority in the lineout that they had in the first half against France last week, whilst the scrums, featuring the exact same front rows as last year’s game, should be dominated by England depending on the refereeing of Jerome Garces.
Head to Head: Martin Castrogiovanni vs Alex Corbisiero
Both Italy and England are sides that pride themselves on the formidable scrummaging abilities of their packs, not least so in their current sides. Martin Castrogiovanni, one of the premier tightheads currently playing in international rugby, will be key to his side’s hopes of causing an upset against England in Rome. If he can unnerve Alex Corbisiero at scrum time, then Italy will be very difficult to stop in the scrum and will hope that this can lead to them dominating all aspects of the set piece.
Corbisiero’s development over the last 12 month has been one of the rare positives in the English game. He continues to learn from Graham Rowntree, and managed to get the edge over Castrogiovanni last year on his debut.
One to Watch: Sergio Parisse & Ben Morgan
Despite performing well against France, Italian captain and number eight Sergio Parisse failed to turn in one of the spectacular performances he has become so well known for. He will be eager to make up for this against England and comes up against the internationally inexperienced Phil Dowson. Dowson failed to silence his doubters against Scotland and Parisse will be hoping to put in a dominant performance against the Englishman whose confidence may be at a low following his previous match. Ben Morgan may only be on the bench, but he made quite the impact last week at Murrayfield, impressing enough for many to suggest he should be included from the start his weekend.
Although Brunel has publicly written off Italy’s chances in the next two Six Nations tournaments, this does not mean that Italy will merely be minimising damage when they meet England on Saturday. Despite going in as underdogs, the inexperience of the English side and the presence of a passionate home crowd may make the game a closer call than many expect. That being said, England come off the back of a hard fought win and will be invigorated for the clash, and could eventually come down to which sides wants it the most in the second half. England by 10 points. AS
England need to cope with Italy’s physicality, and secure considerably more possession this weekend than against Scotland. They have an advantage playing in a new stadium, and sticking with last week’s team will help them for continuity. But this will not be easy. Their last two wins in Italy have been by four and five points respectively. If they can handle the challenge, and take their points, then they should be secure. England by 7. BC
by Alex Shaw & Ben Coles