How will England fare against Italy? We consult the Eddie Jones smile-o-meter
Sunday brings what is widely assumed to be England’s easiest game of the Six Nations. Will it be as much of a walkover as fans expect, or will Italy have some surprises up their sleeves?
Let’s consult the Eddie Jones smile-o-meter.
Running out in front of the home crowd at Twickenham is sure to feel better than the last test away to their biggest rivals Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
England have won their last nine games at home, setting a comfortable precedent. They’ve also trained there this week, familiarising themselves with the hallowed turf once again before the big day.
We’re giving this one an eight – England should feel right at home.
England’s home advantage might be marred by the insider knowledge of England’s backroom that ex-England coach Mike Catt brings to Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri coaching staff.
However, a lot has changed since Jones replaced Stuart Lancaster, who Catt served under during his tenure with England.
We’re not too worried – it’s a six.
Strength in numbers
England’s main advantage here is the depth of the side which enables Jones to pick players tailored to the opposition.
We suspect England will be looking to experiment and give their backs a good run out, which explains the selection of Danny Care over Ben Youngs to start at scrum half.
He is also giving some players a chance to prove themselves.
Ben T’eo – who will be making his first start for the Red Roses – will be at outside centre in a shaken-up back line, after Jonathan Joseph was sent back to his club earlier this week.
James Haskell also makes a triumphant return to start in the pack the pack after a slow comeback from injury.
The only drawback to Haskell and T’eo’s promotion is that it could affect the impact that substitutions have on the game, should things start to go wrong.
Experience may have the opposite effect for Italy – their captain Sergio Parisse has lost more games than any other player, losing 90 times in 123 caps.
This one’s a nine – England have the squad depth.
Rise and Fall
The team is currently chasing the All Blacks record of 18 games unbeaten, with 16 games under their belt. This isn’t the only England record that could be extended on Sunday.
The team’s record against Italy in the Six Nations is unblemished, with the lads piling up 22 wins in 22 games since 1991.
However, as much as they may be buoyed by their win against Wales a fortnight ago, it wasn’t as smooth as Jones would have hoped.
Italy, on the other hand, are enduring a dreadful run of form, leading commentators to question the team’s place in the competition at all. Georgia are currently above them in the world rankings and vying for a place at the table as Italy continue to decline, rather than improve among the best teams in Europe.
This is bound to have an effect on team morale, weakening an already vulnerable side.
It’s another nine. We reckon we’re on to a winner.
England and Italy team line ups
England: Team: M Brown (Harlequins); J May (Gloucester), B Te’o (Worcester), O Farrell (Saracens), E Daly (Wasps); G Ford (Bath), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), M Itoje (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), N Hughes (Wasps)
Replacements: J George (Saracens), M Vunipola (Saracens), K Sinckler (Harlequins), T Wood (Northampton), J Clifford (Harlequins), B Youngs (Leicester), H Slade (Exeter), J Nowell (Exeter)
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Giulio Bisegni (both Zebre), Michele Campagnaro (Exeter), Luke McLean (Treviso), Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre), Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori (both Treviso), Andrea Lovotti (Zebre), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulouse), Lorenzo Cittadini (Bayonne), Marco Fuser (Treviso), Dries Van Schalkwyk (Zebre), Braam Steyn (Treviso), Simone Favaro (Glasgow), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt)
Replacements: Ornel Gega (Treviso), Michele Rizzo (Leicester), Pietro Ceccarelli, George Biagi, Maxime Mbanda (all Zebre), Giorgio Bronzini (Treviso), Carlo Canna (Zebre), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso)