England need to win and to win in style against Italy after their Calcutta Cup defeat
Six Nations England v Italy Preview
England haven’t lost back-to-back matches at home in the championship since 1983 but if Italy were to end a 38-year run in the way Scotland did last weekend when they come to Twickenham on Saturday it would be the biggest shock in Six Nations history.
The Azzurri are on a 28-match losing run in the Six Nations that dates back to 2015, have never beaten England and are an inexperienced team as Franco Smith puts his faith in youth.
There may have been glimpses of improvement in their attacking game, but Italy do not look capable of ending that losing streak, even against an England team that has just produced the worst performance of the Eddie Jones era.
Scotland may have dominated in all facets in winning the Calcutta Cup last Saturday, but even when England did have ball with which to attack Owen Farrell and his cohorts looked devoid of inspiration.
Surely this fixture against Italy represents a prime opportunity to try something new, perhaps see if Harry Randall and/or Paolo Odogwu can recreate their Premiership form on the Test stage. Or give Max Malins a chance to show his talents from the first whistle.
Instead, Jones has returned to familiar territory and picked an all-too predictable line-up, a line-up that upon reflection has been underperforming for a while but has previously been able to mask that with results.
Only three-and-a-half months have passed since these two sides last met, England’s 34-5 win in Rome ultimately enough to see them lift the Six Nations trophy in 2020.
England kicked more than 18% of their possession that day, just as they did against Scotland. So practically one in every five times they get the ball, they kick it away.
Yes, Scotland kicked more against England – 43 times to 39 – but they had more ball to kick with as they had a 62% share of possession. They were kicking one in every seven times they had the ball.
And it’s not just about how many times you kick, but the effectiveness of those kicks. England need to show more intensity in the chase to put pressure on the opposition back three, to find space with the boot like Stuart Hogg did so masterfully and to recognise when it is better to keep the ball in hand.
Defeat is unfathomable for England this weekend but this match is not solely about the result. A comfortable win won’t be enough to silence the critics, they need to win with style. They need to perform.
Now the scene is set, here’s what else you need to know in our Six Nations England v Italy Preview…
What’s the big team news?
Eddie Jones has changed a third of the starting team that lost to Scotland. Mark Wilson and Ollie Lawrence drop out of the match-day 23 all together, which seems particularly harsh on the latter when the centre simply wasn’t given any ball to show what he could do last weekend.
Lawrence’s stats for Worcester and England make for an interesting comparison, as Russ Petty shows here…
The coach has reverted to the 10-12-13 combination of George Ford, Owen Farrell and Henry Slade, while Courtney Lawes replaces Wilson at blindside flanker.
Jones has also changed his entire front row. Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler return from injury and suspension respectively while Luke Cowan-Dickie starts at hooker with Jamie George dropping to the bench.
Italy have made two personnel changes to their team after losing 50-10 to France last week – both injury-enforced.
Carlo Canna comes in at inside-centre, with Juan Ignacio Brex shifting to 13. The two playmaker combination favoured by England also worked well for Italy last autumn with Canna partnering fly-half Paolo Garbisi, so the pair have been reunited following an injury to Marco Zanon.
Up front, prop Andrea Lovotti will play his first Test in almost a year after being named at loosehead.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “As always, we’ve picked what we think is our strongest 23 to try and win the game.
“We’ve trained very well this week, I’ve been very pleased with the players’ attitudes and work-rate.”
Italy head coach Franco Smith told the Telegraph: “Our main opponents are not England but ourselves. That is who we must focus on.
“We must also not be worried about getting the monkey off our back, looking to get one win in the championship at any cost. If that is all we work towards then it will be another five or six years before the next victory. It is time for new faces, new icons in Italian rugby.”
What are the odds?
England are overwhelming favourites for this match, with odds of 1-500 on Bet365. If you think Eddie Jones’s side are going to win comfortably, you can get 13-8 odds with a -43.5 handicap. An Italy win is 33-1 while a draw is 66-1.
If you fancy putting some money on the fixture, Bet365 have a welcome bonus of up to £100 in Bet Credits.
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Any interesting statistics?
- England are the only team not to have lost to Italy in the Six Nations and they have won all 27 matches in all competitions against the Azzurri. They have also scored 109 tries against Italy in the championship – no other team has scored more than 100 tries against a single opponent.
- Both teams paid for their ill-discipline last weekend, England conceding 15 penalties – the most of any team in round one – and Italy 12.
- England didn’t make any line breaks in their opening match against Scotland while Italy made seven against France.
- Italy have scored at least two tries on their last three championship visits to Twickenham.
- England have a scrum success rate of 98% in the championship since 2018, winning 80 of 82 scrums on their own feed to top that stats chart.
- Italy’s Monty Ioane (137) and Juan Ignacio Brex (132) made more metres in round one than any player bar James Lowe (155).
- If Jonny May scores a try against Italy, he will become England men’s standalone second highest try-scorer behind Rory Underwood (49). He is currently level with Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen.
What time does it kick off and what are the TV details?
England v Italy, Saturday 13 February, Twickenham
The match kicks off at 2.15pm (UK & Ireland time) and will be broadcast live on ITV1 in the UK and Virgin Media One in Ireland. You can also listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra.
Former Scotland sevens player Mike Adamson is refereeing his first Six Nations match and he will be assisted by France’s Romain Poite and fellow Scot Ben Blain. Another former international, Ireland’s Joy Neville, is the Television Match Official.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Jack Willis, Dan Robson, Max Malins.
Italy: Jacopo Trulla; Luca Sperandio, Juan Ignacio Brex, Carlo Canna, Monatanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Andrea Lovotti, Luca Bigi (captain), Marco Riccioni, Marco Lazzaroni, David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer, Michele Lamaro.
Replacements: Gianmarco Lucchesi, Danilo Fischetti, Giosuè Zilocchi, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tommaso Allan, Federico Mori.
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