Preview: England v Italy
WORLD CUP WARM-UP: England and Italy’s preparations for the global showpiece will be taken up a notch on Friday.
The match is being contested at St James’ Park in Newcastle and is the final warm-up match for both teams.
England has selected from outside their World Cup squad – naming Joe Marchant at outside centre in a “mix-and-match selection”.
Marchant is not in the 31-man squad, bound for Japan on Sunday, but slots into the midfield alongside Piers Francis, with captain Owen Farrell starting the final warm-up fixture at flyhalf.
Two further players not picked for Japan 2019 are present on the bench in lock Charlie Ewels and flank Matt Kvesic.
Ruaridh McConnochie finally makes his debut on the right wing after two aborted attempts in the doubleheader against Wales due to hip and hamstring injuries.
The Bath Sevens specialist forms a rapid back three alongside Anthony Watson and Leicester flyer Jonny May.
Henry Slade has lost his battle with a knee injury and misses the last opportunity to get some game time before the World Cup and Ben Youngs is given another run at scrumhalf.
Star number eight Billy Vunipola will make his fourth start of the campaign.
“We have gone with a mix-and-match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
England has enjoyed a promising World Cup warm-up series, with a win against Wales at Twickenham and crushing victory over Ireland only slightly offset by a narrow defeat in Cardiff.
Italy completes the four fixtures in the nation’s first outing at St James’ Park, two days before the squad set off for a pre-tournament training camp in Miyazaki.
“We have had a solid training week in Treviso with hot conditions so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against Italy on Friday night,” said Jones.
“Then we hop on the plane and are ready to go to Japan.”
Italy coach Conor O’Shea has made 11 changes to the side who were thumped 47-17 by France in Paris last week, with flank Jimmy Tuivaiti included despite not being in the World Cup squad.
Dean Budd gets the captain’s armband with veteran Sergio Parisse rested for the Italians’ final World Cup warm-up.
Braam Steyn, Simone Ferrari, Jayden Hayward and Mattia Bellini are the only players retained.
Kiwi-born Budd is joined by David Sisi in the second row with Sebastian Negri in the back row with Steyn and Tuivaiti.
Gloucester scrumhalf Callum Braley will make his first Azzurri start at No.9 alongside Carlo Canna, with Tommaso Benvenuti and Giulio Bisegni in midfield.
“We’ll face one of the strongest teams in the world in a match that represents a new step in our preparation for the World Cup,” said coach Conor O’Shea.
“We will have a new opportunity to assess the players’ state of form, in order to understand later how to continue the path to the debut against Namibia. Now our focus is on England.”
Italy will play reigning world champions New Zealand, former winners South Africa and Canada after starting their Pool B campaign against Namibia on September 22.
Jones said England was “delighted” to be playing against Italy, one of their traditional Six Nations rivals.
“The game is another important step for us to develop our game fitness and game strategy.”
2019: England won 57-14, London
2018: England won 46-15, Rome
2017: England won 36-15, London
2016: England won 40-9, Rome
2015: England won 47-17, London
2014: England won 52-11, Rome
2013: England won 18-11, London
2012: England won 19-15, Rome
2011: England won 59-13, London
2010: England won 17-12, Rome
Prediction: England have won each of their 25 Test encounters with Italy, the Azzurri are the only side England have faced on 10 or more occasions without suffering a single defeat. England’s 25 victories over Italy have come by an average margin of 28 points, with Italy failing to finish within 20 points of England since 2013. England has won five of their six matches to be played on a Friday in the professional era, including each of the last four in a row – most recently a 35-11 victory in the opening match of the 2015 World Cup against Fiji. England has scored more points (280) and tries (35) than any other Tier One side in 2019, as well as maintaining the best goal-kicking success rate (86 percent). The bookmakers say England by more than 30 points, but we feel it will be a touch less – about 20 points.
England: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Mark Wilson, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 George Ford, 23 Joe Cokanasiga.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Benvenuti, 11 Edoardo Padovani, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd (captain), 4 David Sisi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Nicola Quaglio.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Alessandro Zanni, 21 Maxime Mbanda, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Tommaso Allan.
Date: Friday, September 6
Venue: James’ Park, Newcastle
Kick-off: 19.45 (20.45 Italy time; 18.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Sunny intervals and scattered showers. High of 18°C and a low of 9°C
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Sources: @EnglandRugby & AFP