Six Nations Key Clash Preview: Italy v England

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So it comes down to this weekend. If France can do England a favour, a most uncomfortable thought for most Frenchmen, then the championship is still on. However unlikely a major Irish loss seems – although who knows, with another significantly reshuffled French line-up – if England can find another gear there is a championship there for the taking.

Italy

The Italians fought manfully for 55 minutes against the Irish, and have put together some generally decent performances this campaign. Their inability to consistently perform at the top level for 80 minutes is what has cost them dearest. Whilst no team in world rugby can reach their peak for a game’s entire span, it comes down to how high your peaks and how low your troughs are. Currently, Italy’s crevasses are too deep and their mountains barely hills.

Ireland clearly had a plan to keep the tempo high throughout, reaping the rewards in the last quarter. Italy tried to match them, rather than play their own set-piece to set-piece game, and were only able to stay in it for so long. They’ll need to be at their momentum-fragmenting best if they’re to stop what looks to be a seriously strong England side.

England

If only. If only they had found two more minutes of gas against France, there would be a grand slam to be hunted. Whilst Lancaster’s men will be unlikely to dwell on such missed opportunities for long, they will know that things could have been different.

Still, they’ve had a fine tournament. In clinically dispatching Scotland, bravely overcoming Ireland and somewhat embarrassing Wales, England have looked the real deal. The pack has been on fire throughout, the defence has been immense, both insatiably physical and brutally unrelenting.

Their young backline has also begun to catch light, and whilst Jonny May and Jack Nowell have run up some blind, isolated alleys more often than their teammates would like, the combinations of Burrell and Twelvetrees, and Farrell and Care, have blossomed gloriously. If Italy aren’t prepared for a fight, this could well be walkover.

All eyes on

For Italy, the returning Sergio Parisse will of course be key, but it will be the slighter figure of Leonardo Sarto to whom the Italians will look to spark some life. An strange looking winger, he doesn’t necessarily look a threat, but manages to appear in the right place, at just the right time, to make something happen.

For England, Ben Morgan has an opportunity (maybe his last) to show that Billy Vunipola has not necessarily carved his name into the number 8 shirt. Morgan has the chance to showcase his talents against one of the game’s all-time greats in Parisse, and he will need to show all the deftness of touch from Saturday as well as no small amount of brute force to get the better of one of the game’s true warriors.

Head-to-head: Mike Brown v Luke McLean

McLean has been, to my mind, Italy’s player of the championship. Every game he has shown the solidity so valued in a fullback, and has built upon that with each 80 minutes he has had on the field. Running, kicking, distributing from second receiver and organising his youthful wingers, McLean will need to show all of this if he is to challenge arguably the world’s current form fullback.

Mike Brown is playing on another level at the moment; tactically, physically, and with no small amount of skill, and yet there will still be naysayers who think his status as number one outrageous. The problem for Brown is that he does not look as dynamic as the Folaus or the Daggs of this world. But in the consistent quality of his contributions, every minor involvement, minuscule detail, he seems to come away in profit. If he can add one or two more tries to his game, the doubters would do well to fall silent.

Prediction

Italy will need to be excellent just to stick with England, but the Italians have a happy knack of getting under a team’s skin. If they can come out flying, the visitors could run away with it. More likely, though, it will be comfortable but not a cricket score. England to win by 17.

By Patrick Cheshire (@jpcheshire)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

15 thoughts on “Six Nations Key Clash Preview: Italy v England

  1. Think it will be a win but only in single figures. Italy at home are a completely different animal from Italy away.

    Ben Morgan and Billy V are different players that bring differing skill sets to the game. I think that at the moment probably Billy’s skill set is probably the better one for the England team, but it’s not bad to have Morgan in reserve! For the RWC we will need two (at least) international quality players in each position. We’re probably light at 7, 10, 11 and 14 and possibly 12 at the moment, but this is light years ahead of where we were 12 months ago!

    1. I agree, broadly with your assessment of where we are light at the moment, but in many cases it’s not because there isn’t talent, it just isn’t proven yet.

      At 7, I imagine we’ll see Clark and Kvesic in NZ,
      10, Ford is next man up, but I want to see Cipriani brought in
      12, Eastmond needs to be given some gametime, and I can’t see that he won’t get time either in NZ or the autumn, and with Burrell also capable at 12, I don’t see this as a problem position anymore.
      Wings, oh for Wade or Yarde to have had their chances since the autumn. I like Nowell for the future, but he looks to be still developing, and May has an x factor, but needs to find his way. I’d keep an eye on Rokogunduni as well as a late bolter for the wing spot.

      Lancaster has done so many things right. Kudos to him.

      1. Agreed – I should have said “proven” international players! Still time for the odd bolter yet. Who had May or Nowell in contention 12 months ago?

  2. Mike Brown is without a doubt the best full back in the northern hemisphere, but I’d argue Folau is still ahead of him. Folau is much more dynamic than Brown, and he runs probably the best support lines in the super 15 at the moment. However, I believe Brown is already ahead of Dagg and Le Roux in terms of all-round game. looking forward to their showdown this november though.

    In regards to the Italy game, I think England will win, but by a maximum of 15, with a rested Parisse and with Vunipola making the scrum a Little less dominant.

    1. Inclined to agree here. Folau has been popping up all over the place so far this Super XV season, is unbelievable under the high ball, and probably beats as many defenders as Brown. Never been overwhelmed by Dagg, he seems to be really good for NZ, but I think it’s hard to judge as the rest of the team are so good it can distort how effective he is as an individual.

      Really looking forward to the England game. As far as the overall Championship goes, if England lose out on points difference, I’d be relatively satisfied with how far they seem to have come, particularly the depth created and the coaches seeming to be learning from their mistakes earlier in the Championship.

    2. Brown runs support lines just as good as Folau does, the difference is that Folau can count much more on his his teammates knowing he’ll be there and executing the pass at the right moment and with accuracy than Brown can. There have been any number of moments this championship where Brown has been in the perfect spot to collect an offload and streak for the tryline but too often his fellow players have taken the ball into the tackle instead. Brown’s try against Scotland was one of the few instances where his support was utilised, but it’s been there often

  3. Yeah we get it guys Brown’s poo might be the same colour as his name but it smells of roses . Too much roundball obsession with one player methinks and well done to the English pack who actually won the games to leave them in with a chance on the last weekend .

    1. Actually, until you arrived there was an adult debate going on about world class full backs prompted by the head to head part of the article above. I suggest you get your coat!

  4. If England take the pragmatic build a lead approach I don’t see them taking enough out of Italy for them to fall off the cliff in the last 20, they will be in it to the end for another narrow English win. If they play with real pace, offloads, keep the ball off the floor as much as possible I don’t think the Italians will live with it and we can possible pile the points on later in the game.

    It’s a highly improbable points difference, but I really hope England go for it from minute 1 and play 80 mins of breathless rugby, nothing to lose! We need to trust the bench and not be afraid to empty the tanks in the first 55-60 (Morgan especially! Johnson coming on for the last 20 mins in a open game could be a great impact change).

    The points we left on the pitch against Scotland and Ireland will be decisive, but I’m hoping we’ll get a 20 point win, in itself a great result in Rome.

    1. I agree, and I think England will look to play in this manner. The Italians are traditionally strong in the set piece, so as free-flowing a game as possible would seem to be the most effective way of getting a win. Even if it means a few frustrating handling errors etc, I would really like to see some new things in attack from England. (not that I think the attack has been bad so far)

      In contrast to the other games we have seen this 6N, I’d like the bench to get used earlier rather than later, mainly so that players such as Thomas, Attwood and Ford get some “measurable” game time.

  5. Ah reminiscing here,

    Anyone else remember Ireland loosing a championship when they went after Italy to rack up the points in Rome. Free flowing rugby led to an intercept try for Italy in injury time, which eventually lost us the championship on points difference to France.

    Italy aren’t a bad outfit – you just have to tire them out a bit and keep an eye on McLean, Sarto and Parisse.

    DDD

  6. Just watching old rerun of Life on Earth and there’s a strange likeness between Billy Twelvetrees and young David Attenborough!! Just thought I’d share that.

  7. What a prick! (again) – Owen Farrell – Ruined what could have been a nail-biting evening of rugby. Arse-hole.

    DDD

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