Date: 12th February 2011
Kick-off: 14:30 (GMT)
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
The Millennium Stadium curse has been lifted after England won for the first time in Cardiff in eight years. In reality, the scoreline does not quite reflect how well England played, but perhaps this is more an indication of how some chances were wasted, and how they let Wales back into the game. Still, a win is a win, and now the first one is under the belt England have three consecutive games at home. By the next away game against Ireland, it could be four wins from four, but after last year’s painful experience against Italy, they will not be overconfident and prepare any differently. Here is their chance to make a statement, and any victory by more than 15 points will send out a message.
So cruelly denied a first win over Ireland in the Six Nations last weekend, the Azzurri will have been hurting over the last week. Luke Mclean’s 76th minute score sparked such fantastic scenes around the Stadio Flaminio that anyone not from the Emerald Isle couldn’t help but want Italy to seal the deal. Now coming to Twickenham, having had a victory snatched away, their mental state will be interesting. The loss will have either spurred them on, or devastated them. Bar possibly the Stade de France, Twickenham would have been the last ground they would have wanted to travel to. Time to see what Nick Mallett’s side are really made of.
What to expect:
A huge test for the English forwards, an even greater one for the Italian backs. Whilst the Italian pack is certainly formidable, there is no doubt that England can match them. Behind the scrum however, the gulf is alarming. England will not be as wasteful as the incumbent Irish back line last weekend, and if Shontayne Hape can get the penetration needed through the centre, then the English back three will have an enjoyable afternoon. Upfront, the line out is an area where both teams are strong on their own ball, so it will be interesting to see how they challenge each other’s ball. The scrum itself is a spectacle to relish: Perugini versus Cole, Castrogiovanni against Sheridan. Epic.
All eyes on:
Tom Wood, making his appearance in an England shirt after an excellent debut last Friday night. Unperturbed by the atmosphere or the intensity of the occasion, Wood was one of England’s stand-out performers and rightly deserved the praise he received in the press following his performance. The emotions will surely be just as high as he runs out for cap number two.
Making his first Six Nations appearance since 2005, Luciano Orquera takes the reins at number 10, pushing Kristopher Burton onto the bench. More inconsistency from Nick Mallett, but the 31 year old Orquera is a solid option, if not spectacular. The kicking duties should be handed to Mirco Bergamasco, leaving Orquera to focus on getting his pack into good positions around the park, and trying to get his backs going. No easy task in this Italian side.
Head to head – Leicester’s Cole and Castrogiovanni:
So often reduced to watching his shaggy-haired rival at Leicester from the bench, Dan Cole will relish the chance to emerge on top of his team-mate Martin Castrogiovanni. Cole is heralded by some as the best emerging tighthead prop in the world, whilst Castro is regarded by some as the best. They may not be scrummaging directly against each other, but such is their importance to their respective packs, they might as well be. A clash to savour.
Last year’s result: England bored anyone who watched into a coma, with 17-12 the final scoreline.
Weather: Sunny intervals, strong easterly wind.
No danger of an upset here, surely. England, but by how much? Perhaps 20-25 points.