By Rugby World editor Paul Morgan
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 12 February Kick-off: 2.30pm GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, HD channel, Red Button and BBC Sport website from 1400; listen on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; live text online and on mobiles
England take the unusual step of naming an unchanged side, a luxury that Martin Johnson has rarely been presented with since taking over in the summer of 2008. His only option after the 26-19 win over Wales was to bring the squad’s “fetcher” Hendre Fourie back after he recovered from a calf injury, but he has decided to stick with the power play of James Haskell at openside flanker, instead preferring to introduce Fourie after the 50-minute mark when turnovers can be more precious, the opposition forwards will be getting more tired, and his interventions may create more gaps than in the first 20 minutes. Especially in the first half England’s attacking game plan is built around their power runners like Haskell and Mike Tindall.
The Twickenham crowd will demand more than just a 6-3 win but for Johnson it is two points that are crucial. “A win is always number one. That is the healthiest mindset. If you start thinking of unrealistic expectations you will be in trouble,” Johnson told me at the team’s Bagshot headquarters on Thursday. “Our number one priority is to win. Number two is we don’t have any serious injuries and number three is that it is an exciting Test match. If you go in with that attitude to any game you are in the right place. If you start thinking what it looks like, then you are in trouble.
“We are here to win Test matches, make no bones about it. We have exciting players all over the field who can score and create damage and we want to use them – but to do that you have to win the battle.”
Italy will play a restricted game plan as they have at Twickenham over the last decade but at least the new law interpretations will restric their opportunities to fire the ball high in the air time and time again, whcih will be a relief to the 80,000 heading to south-west London on Saturday. Attack coach Brian Smith said England would try not to get involved in a game of “aerial ping pong” but Italy would like nothing more than to spoil England’s party, hang in their until the 60-minute mark and see if Micro Bergasmasco can kick them home.
I make England 15-point favourites and expect them to turn the screw after half-time if they approach the game with the right mindset. But let us have your predictions. What do you think will happen at Twickers?
Johnson added: “The biggest fundamental of all these matches are that we have to have more energy, more enthusiasm, more speed around the field than these guys. We have to create that buzz. We have to bring the juice whatever game we play and I think the players understand that.”
Nick Mallett’s biggest decision was to change his outside-half, Kris Burton dropping to the bench with Luciano Orquera replacing him. “Orquera should also have started against Ireland but he was coming back from an injury in November and it was he himself who said he didn’t feel quite ready, so now the coach is giving him his chance,” said Italy team manager Luigi Troiani.
Ladbrokes are giving England a 21-point start.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon ENGLAND (Ireland) & Peter Allen (Scotland)
TMO: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
England: Ben Foden (Northampton); Chris Ashton (Northampton), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, capt), Shontayne Hape (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale); Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Alex Corbieseiro (London Irish), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester); Louis Deacon (Leicester), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais); Tom Wood (Northampton), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Matt Banahan (Bath), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon); Danny Care (Harlequins); Dave Wilson (Bath); Steve Thompson (Leeds); Simon Shaw (Wasps); Hendre Fourie (Leeds)
Italy: Luke McLean; Andrea Masi, Gonzalo Canale, Alberto Sgarbi, Mirco Bergamasco; Luciano Orquera, Pablo Canavosio; Salvatore Perugini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Carlo Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys, Valerio Bernabo, Alessandro Zanni, Sergio Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Fabio Ongaro, Andrea Lo Cicero, Santiago Dellape, Robert Barbieri, Fabio Semenzato, Kris Burton, Gonzalo Garcia.
* England changes from last weekend: England make one change to their 22 from the squad that won in Cardiff in the 2011 RBS Six Nations opener. The starting XV remains the same, but back row substitute Hendre Fourie returns following a calf injury, to replace the experienced Joe Worsley. Mike Tindall continues as captain
* England fascinating fact: Andrew Sheridan is in his eighth season as prop after switching from flanker, and before that second row
* England injuries: Lewis Moody (knee ligaments), Courtney Lawes (knee ligaments), Tom Croft (shoulder)
* Italy changes from last weekend: Italy make four changes from the side that narrowly lost to Ireland last weekend at Rome, for the visit to Twickenham to play England. Two of the changes are injury enforced, with scrum-half Edoardo Gori and flanker Josh Sole being replaced by Pablo Canavosio and Valerio Bernabo respectively. The other two changes are switches between the bench and starting XV’s from the Ireland game ‐ fly half Kris Burton drops to the bench, with Luciano Orquera promoted, and Carlo del Fava coming in for Santiago Dellape at lock. Captain Sergio Parisse has recovered from a finger injury. Scrum-half Fabio Semenzato could win his first cap from the bench.
* Italy fascinating fact: Mirco Bergamasco has scored 110pts from kicks in his last 12 Tests.
* Italy injuries: Mauro Bergamasco (shoulder injury since November), Craig Gower (knee), Paul Derbyshire, Edoardo Gori (dislocated shoulder in 9th minute v Ireland), Josh Sole (ankle injury v Ireland), Manoa Vosowai