England will hope to pile up the points in Rome as they chase the championship title
Six Nations Italy v England preview
England’s third Six Nations title in five years looks on the cards as Super Saturday makes its long-awaited entrance seven months later than planned.
A sizeable bonus-point victory against Italy will probably be enough for Eddie Jones’s team, albeit that both France and Ireland are still bang in championship contention. They meet in the day’s final match in Paris and so will know what is required.
Assumptions of an England win at the Stadio Olimpico (kick-off 4.45pm) are inevitable because they have never lost to the Azzurri in 26 previous meetings. In fact, it’s seven years since they last won the fixture by fewer than 20 points.
Italy are on the worst losing run in championship history. They had the advantage of a run-out last weekend in Dublin although the 50-17 defeat made ugly viewing for them. They were penalised mercilessly, inviting trouble with their often tardy arrival at the breakdown.
England’s match against the Barbarians never happened because of Covid rule breaches. Jones has made light of that cancellation, however. “In a lot of ways we didn’t miss a beat. We’re just grateful for the chance to play against Italy,” he told a BBC podcast.
England will want to win big because the championship may well be decided on points difference. But Jones cited the recent NRL Grand Final as a warning as to what can happen if a team becomes seduced by the scoreboard.
“Tactical discipline is the hardest thing in the game,” said the Australian, having observed how Melbourne Storm nearly paid the price after they began playing loosely when leading Penrith Panthers 26-6.
What’s the big team news?
England field eight of the side that started their last game against Wales in early March. Pride of place goes to Ben Youngs, who becomes only the second Englishman after Jason Leonard to win 100 caps. The Tigers scrum-half will lead out the team alongside hooker Jamie George, making his 50th appearance.
In part due to injury, there are only two members of the double-winning Exeter team. Joining Henry Slade is lock Jonny Hill, who makes a richly deserved debut alongside Maro Itoje.
Slade told Sky Sports: “Jonny has been our standout player for Exeter this season. The way he’s taken over running the lineout, he’s matured massively as a player. He’s just so calm and collected but also he’s a big lump, he can hit you. I’m really happy for him.”
Bath hooker Tom Dunn, Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence and Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley will also win their first Test cap if deployed from the bench. And there will be cheers at Wasps should Dan Robson also get on – the scrum-half has been unjustly limited to just a few minutes’ action against France and Italy last year.
Most notable among a raft of absentees is George Ford (achilles injury), who has featured in every England Six Nations match since 2014. Owen Farrell reverts to ten, with either Slade or George Furbank presumably ready to fill in there should Farrell get injured.
Furbank starts at full-back in place of Elliot Daly (shin). He can count himself fortunate to win his third cap after struggling for form in a woefully out-of-sorts Northampton team.
Italy make just one change to the side beaten by Ireland. Matteo Minozzi is restored at full-back having played for his club Wasps last week in the English Premiership final.
Head coach Franco Smith has stuck 20-year-old fly-half Paolo Garbisi in the driving seat after just three Pro14 matches as part of a three-year project building up to the 2023 World Cup. Experienced ten Carlo Canna is at 12 to offer support.
The back row all swapped shirt numbers in Dublin and that plan continues. Gloucester’s Jake Polledri thus gets only his second Test start at eight, the thinking being to get Italy’s best carrier on the ball more frequently.
Related content: Jake Polledri on how to be a top ball-carrier
The veteran Sergio Parisse has still not given up on the idea of a Test swansong, but if it happens it will now need to be in the 2021 Six Nations.
The previous championship meeting of these sides saw England win 57-14 last year – watch highlights of that match at Twickenham here.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy.
“We will also celebrate two major achievements in Ben Youngs and Jamie George’s cap milestones. It’s testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them.
“Ben is a great team man, he loves playing for England and gives it everything he’s got. He’s got a desire to keep wanting to get better. At his best he’s a great running half-back and we’re hopeful we’ll see some of that on Saturday.”
On selection (from BBC podcast): “You can win through pick and go, through driving mauls, through playing great phase rugby. You need to keep adjusting your selection.
“Listening to the France-Wales commentary (last weekend), they said France already know their World Cup back row. If I was a selector or head coach for France, I would hate to be that person if you knew now. Because I’m hoping tomorrow I find someone who’s better than what we’ve got now. And that’s what we keep on looking for.”
Italy head coach Franco Smith said: “Physically we are still behind: we have worked very hard, even with deductibles. It means we have to focus on this side and do more.
On Garbisi: “He played a good match against Ireland, with personality. In the next few weeks we need to make team improvements that will surely bring advantages to him too.”
What are the odds?
England are overwhelming favourites for this match but 888 is offering enhanced odds to Rugby World readers. Rather than betting on England at 1-100, 888 has odds of 6-1 on Eddie Jones’s team winning and 150-1 on Italy achieving a famous victory if you use the code 888ODDS. The maximum bet is £5 and winnings are paid as free bets.
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Any interesting statistics?
* Italy are on a 26-match losing run in the championship, their last win being 22-19 at Murrayfield in February 2015
* Maro Itoje has made 71 tackles in the tournament – the joint highest figure. His 20 dominant tackles is seven more than any player from any side
* Itoje also tops the rankings for arrivals at attacking rucks (135)
* Jake Polledri has made the most tackle breaks (nine) of any player in the championship, along with the most offloads of any forward (eight) and fourth-most carries (49)
* The last England lock before Jonny Hill to make his debut in the Six Nations was Steve Borthwick in 2001
* England have made the highest number of dominant tackles in the tournament (107), while Italy have made the fewest (49)
* Matteo Minozzi has made the most offloads (nine) in the championship
What time does it kick off and what are the TV details?
Italy v England, Saturday 31 October, Stadio Olimpico
The match kicks off at 4.45pm and will be broadcast live on ITV1 and BBC Radio 5 Live.
France’s Pascal Gauzere takes the whistle for this one. He will be assisted by Mike Adamson (Scotland) and Alex Ruiz (FFR). Frenchman Romain Poite is the Television Match Official.
What are the line-ups?
Italy: Matteo Minozzi; Edoardo Padovani, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini; Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (capt), Giosuè Zilocchi, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolò Cannone, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Jake Polledri.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Simone Ferrari, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 David Sisi, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Maxime Mbandà, 22 Guglielmo Palazzina, 23 Federico Mori.
England: George Furbank; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Ollie Thorley.
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