England v Italy - Teams and Predictions
SIX NATIONS, ROUND TWO: Eddie Jones may be something of a self-confessed “mad chemist” but he has avoided any wacky experiments as England look to revive their Six Nations title defence against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
What little prospect there was of the veteran Australian blooding a few rising stars against an Azzurri side who are on a miserable run of 28 successive Six Nations defeats, likely disappeared following England’s lacklustre 6-11 loss to Scotland last week.
Instead he has recalled George Ford at flyhalf, with captain Owen Farrell moving to inside centre following Scotland’s first win at Twickenham in 38 years.
Ford was on the bench last weekend, with Farrell starting at flyhalf.
But the Saracens star was widely criticised for his performance and although there was never much chance of England coach Jones bowing to calls to drop Farrell, he has reverted to a familiar 10-12 axis in selecting the 73-times capped Ford.
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While there is just a lone personnel change among the backs, with luckless centre Ollie Lawrence dropped from the entire matchday 23, Jones has performed major pack surgery in a bid to counter Italy’s scrum threat after Scotland’s dominant set-piece display.
Seasoned props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola, returning from suspension and injury, form an all-new front row alongside hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie after Will Stuart, Ellis Genge and Jamie George were all benched.
Jones, who wants his team playing “good English rugby” off the front foot as “that’s when we are one of the most damaging teams in the world”, said restoring squad morale had been no easy task.
“It’s a bit like being a mad chemist; you try to find a bit of everything,” he said.
“This week, because we’ve had a loss and the team have been criticised from North to the South Pole – and probably in between – the mood is not as upbeat so you’ve got to work a bit harder to get everyone thinking in a positive way and we’ve done that.”
When Farrell squandered a four-man overlap early in the second half against Scotland by kicking the ball away, it appeared England had become so wedded to a forward-orientated game-plan they were prepared to ignore the obvious talent among their backs.
#ITAvFRA 🇮🇹 🇫🇷
— Italrugby (@Federugby) February 7, 2021
‘Method in the madness’
But wing Anthony Watson, while adamant there was a “time and a place” for a handling game, insisted England had no objection to running the ball.
“With Jonny May and Elliot Daly we have got two guys there who are very, very quick, can put pressure on and force a bad kick and that’s when our counter-attack is most lethal,” he said.
“There is method to the madness. There is method to everything that we do… If it is there for us to run, I can guarantee you that we will be running the ball.”
Jones, meanwhile, sidestepped the ongoing debate about Italy’s participation in the Six Nations, which intensified after their 10-50 defeat by France last week, amid calls for Georgia to be promoted instead.
Italy, yet to beat England, have not enjoyed a Six Nations victory since a 22-19 win away to Scotland in 2015.
But, if only because the other five countries fear the dire financial consequences should one of them be relegated when Italy are no longer involved, Franco Smith’s side are set to stay in the Championship.
And former Italy coach Conor O’Shea, now the director of performance rugby at England’s Rugby Football Union, cited their 28-17 win over Georgia in 2018 as proof the Azzurri had outgrown the second tier of European rugby.
“The easy thing is just to question what Italy are doing, but when you look at their style of play, they’re infinitely better than Georgia,” O’Shea, whose ‘no-ruck’ Italy side briefly troubled England four years ago, told the Daily Mail.
“They are trying to play a really good brand of rugby under Franco,” the former Ireland fullback added.
Players to watch
For England: Following his lacklustre performance at flyhalf against Scotland, the England skipper Owen Farrell will be closely monitored by pundits as he takes up the inside centre role. George Ford returns to flyhalf after sitting on the bench last weekend. The 73-times capped Ford’s return should make a massive impact. In the pack, a brand new front row that sees props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola return from suspension and injury respectively, with Luke Cowan-Dickie starting at hooker in place of Jamie George.
For Italy: Zebre centre Carlo Canna comes into Italy starting line-up for this weekend’s Six Nations match against England. Canna, who will win his 48th cap, returns following the withdrawal of Marco Zanon, who injured his right leg against France and has gone back to his club. He will line up in midfield alongside Argentina-born Ignacio Brex who made a steady debut against the French on a difficult afternoon. South African-born Johan Meyer along with No.8 Michele Lamaro could be a handful. The 22-year-old Lamaro is one of Italy’s leading young stars and, despite earning just his third cap in Round 1, he shone by making 57 metres with the ball and 11 tackles.
Head to Head:
Both teams have the challenging task of proving themselves after their respective defeats. The battle in the midfield between Owen Farrell of England and Carlo Canna of Italy will be intriguing as both need to be on top of their game. There are also plenty of talent in the backrow, England’s Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes versus Italy’s Michele Lamaro, Johan Meyer and Sebastian Negri.
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: England by 20 points
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Jack Willis, 22 Dan Robson, 23 Max Malins.
Italy: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori.
Date: Saturday, February 13
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.15 GMT; 15.15 Italy time)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy with sunny intervals and a moderate breeze. High of 1°C and a low of -1°C
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Ben Blain (Scotland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
*Additional reporting by @rugby365com
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) February 12, 2021