Both teams took some positives from first-round defeats, but the weight of history lies heavy on Italian shoulders going into this championship clash in Rome on Sunday
Six Nations Italy v England Preview
There was a trace of irritation in Kieran Crowley’s response last weekend when asked about Italy’s record losing run in the Guinness Six Nations.
It was understandable because, after Italy’s 37-10 defeat in Paris, their new head coach is accountable for only one of the 33 successive championship defeats that they carry into Sunday’s match with England at Stadio Olimpico (3pm).
And Italy emerged with a lot of credit from Crowley’s first Six Nations match. They played with heart, conviction and intelligence, turning over French ball on a number of occasions.
Loosehead Danilo Fischetti made ten tackles and won a scrum penalty in the first half, then helped Toa Halafihi make a brilliant try-saving tackle on Jonathan Danty.
Fly-half Paolo Garbisi is still learning – it’s probably best not to take a penalty quickly in your 22 when your team are refilling their lungs – but you have to love his positivity. Tommaso Menoncello, the championship’s youngest try-scorer for 55 years, was heralded this week by Paul Gustard, the former England defence coach now at Benetton, as one of the top five young kids he has coached.
The teenager, not involved this Sunday, is part of a batch of young talent making its mark – as evidenced by Italy’s historic victory on Friday night in Treviso.
Of course, Italy still lost by a large margin in Paris. And although England have sometimes stuttered against the perennial underdogs, it seems inevitable that the Azzurri will have to wait a while longer to achieve a first-ever win against this weekend’s visitors.
England are licking their wounds after their first-round loss at Murrayfield. On only three occasions in the previous 22 editions of the Six Nations has a team lost their opening match and still won the title. But one of those was England as recently as 2020 – joining France (2006) and Wales (2013) – and, like Italy, they did a lot of good things in defeat last weekend.
Scotland’s average ruck speed of 4.46 seconds showed how effectively England slowed down Scottish ball, but the number of line breaks they conceded off first phase suggested the overall team cohesion is not where it needs to be. This is a new coaching group and changes take time. A red-zone efficiency of 1.22 also pinpointed failings in attack.
Eddie Jones doesn’t like losing but he views any setback as an opportunity to find a solution. England had a very poor championship last year and in his book Leadership he writes of that period: “When adversity finds you, your eyes need to light up as you say, ‘Right, here we go. Here is an opportunity to test yourself as a leader’.
“It’s a defining test and that’s why I love these difficult moments as a head coach. Nothing is easy. It’s down to you and your skills, your character and your desire, to show how good you can be under intense pressure. I feel alive and ready to thrive in those situations.”
One of England’s two wins in the 2021 Six Nations was by 41-18 against Italy. It was a match notable for a horrific injury to Jack Willis and a spectacular finish by Jonny May.
May is missing this time, along with Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi, Mako Vunipola, Mark Wilson and George Kruis. Some will return and others not but all are the “glue guys” that Jones says keep a team humming.
Sunday is a chance for some less experienced players to prove they belong. It will be a teabag test – you don’t know if it will make you a great cup of tea until you put it under hot water.
Even allowing for Italy’s promising start under Crowley, and England’s faltering attack in Edinburgh, the visitors should record a bonus-point win in Rome and thus deny Jones an opportunity to experience the sort of adversity he relishes learning from.
England will play the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday 19 June (3pm) ahead of their summer tour to Australia, the RFU has announced. You can buy tickets here.
What’s the big team news?
England have changed half of the team that started against Scotland. Maro Itoje switches to six in a back row also featuring Alex Dombrandt, while Charlie Ewels gets a first start against Italy after three previous appearances against them off the bench.
Jamie George and Will Stuart get starts in the front row. Luke Cowan-Dickie, one of three vice-captains along with Ellis Genge and Henry Slade, is on the bench a week on from conceding a costly penalty try at Murrayfield.
Scrum-half Harry Randall, who has been in electric form for Bristol, makes the Six Nations debut that he was denied last year by injury. Ben Youngs will become the joint most-capped England men’s player of all time, alongside Jason Leonard, assuming he is used off the bench. Youngs made his debut against Scotland in March 2010 and is in line to add to his 113 caps.
After a catalogue of injury problems, Exeter wing Jack Nowell makes his first England start in nearly three years. Joe Marchant shifts to centre alongside Slade in a new midfield pairing that relegates Elliot Daly to a utility role on the bench.
Also among the replacements is Leicester back-five forward Ollie Chessum, 21, who is poised for his England debut this weekend.
Italy make three changes from the side beaten in France. Federico Mori, more often seen at centre, makes his first Test start on the wing in place of Menoncello. Braam Steyn, a lineout expert, comes in for Sebastian Negri in the back row, and Pietro Ceccarelli gets the tighthead spot at the expense of Tiziano Pasquali.
What have the coaches said?
England coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve set ourselves the target of playing really well and lighting up Rome. We’ve made some changes and this is the best side to face Italy. We want to start fast and take the game to them.
“We’ve been really pleased with Harry (Randall). He’s a livewire half-back, he’s very good in broken play and he’s got a good solid pass on him. His kicking game is improving.
‘Sam Simmonds played very well at No 8 but we’re going to finish with him this week. Italy tends to be a more open and unstructured game, so we want to see Alex play in a game we think will really suit him. Then we’ve gone for a big six. We want to get a bit more running out of Maro in terms of his attack.
“Italy can be a dangerous team and have some very good players in the likes of Garbisi, Negri and Lamaro. They have made some really rapid progress under Kieran Crowley. It’s been a difficult week but the players have bounced back well, trained hard and are ready to put on a good performance on Sunday.”
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley: “The match against France gave us indications of our work done so far. During the week the focus was on certain actions: with the right attitude and greater precision we have the opportunity to continue on our growth path.”
Montpellier skills coach Bruce Reihana (who coaches Paolo Garbisi): “Paolo and Marcus Smith will be a great battle at No 10. Paolo can make things difficult for England. If Italy ensure the 12 and 13 have his back, you’ll see his true talent by giving him freedom to be a threat.”
Any interesting statistics?
- England are the only team not to have lost to Italy in the Six Nations. They’ve won all 28 matches in all competitions against the Azzurri
- Italy captain Michele Lamaro made 21 tackles in round one – second only to Wales back-row Taine Basham (22)
- England, beaten last week, haven’t lost their opening two Six Nations games since 2005
- Their 80-23 win over the Azzurri in 2001 remains the tournament’s biggest victory
- England and Italy each made seven dominant tackles in last weekend’s opening round – the joint highest figure with Ireland
- Paolo Garbisi (438) and Ben Youngs (457) were the only players from round one to gain more than 400 metres from kicks in play
- Italy have lost their previous 20 home Six Nations games. You have to go back to 2013, when they toppled Ireland 22-15, for their last success on home soil
- England averaged 4.2m over the gain-line per carry against Scotland – the best rate of any team in the opening round
- England (eight) and Italy (seven) were the only countries not to beat at least ten defenders last weekend
What time does it kick off and what are the TV details?
Italy v England, Sunday 13 February at Stadio Olimpico.
The match kicks off at 3pm (GMT) in Rome and will be broadcast live on ITV. There will be radio commentary on BBC Sports Extra.
What are the line-ups?
Edoardo Padovani; Federico Mori, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Abraham Steyn, Michele Lamaro (capt), Toa Halafihi.
Replacements: 16 Epalahame Faiva, 17 Cherif Traoré, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Leonardo Marin.
Freddie Steward; Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell; Marcus Smith, Harry Randall; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry (capt), Alex Dombrandt.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ollie Chessum, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Elliot Daly.
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