England host Italy in Round Four of the 2019 Six Nations. Here are the key talking points, stats and quotes you need before the clash at Twickenham
Six Nations England v Italy Preview
It is impossible to avoid. The big fat zero in Italy’s win column for matches against England in the Six Nations has been a black hole, sucking us all towards it for years. But that shouldn’t be a world-ending number that offers no hope of an alternative or at least any interest. In fact that harsh history – twinned with the bookies tipping an England win at 1/100 this weekend – creates opportunity for some arresting rugby.
England are expected to crush the Italians here, but the last time these two met at Twickenham, in 2017, we were introduced to the ‘fox’ strategy. The Italians periodically refused to create a ruck in defence, allowing them to come around and block off any pass made from the base of that tackle area (they had been told by officials beforehand they could not touch the scrum-half).
Despite eventually winning, confusion reigned for England.
Recently Brendan Venter, who was the mastermind of the Fox and a consultant coach for Italy back then, made clear that such innovative tactics were borne of necessity at a time when the Italian franchises were struggling. In a column with Rugby World last month, he wrote at length about the need for skill acquisition.
Related: Rugby’s need for more innovation
As spring blooms in 2019, however, there is a real sense of positivity about the Italian franchises, or at least Benetton Treviso who are shocking storied sides and stringing wins together in the Guinness Pro14. That has taken time and there is still a lot of the Pro14 season to go, so no one can get ahead of themselves. And the Italian national team still have no Six Nations wins under coach Conor O’Shea. But still, the run has to be highlighted.
The Azzurri also spooked Ireland for much of the match in the last round, before succumbing to a ten-point loss and failing to snaffle a losing bonus point (Italy still cannot shake their tendency to go hard, only to fade late in contests).
There will be slivers of encouragement there for them, whether or not they have any new innovations to showcase at Twickenham.
Despite all this, though, ass you will see below, England have looked at this fixture, weighed up that looming zero of Italy wins, and rung the changes in selection. Perhaps more ominous for Italy than that black hole of losses is the astronomical density of England’s back-line. There are enormous blokes there.
Italy do not want a slug-fest, but it looks like one is coming…
What’s the big team news?
The hosts have called in Joe Cokanasiga and Ben Te’o to replace Jack Nowell and Henry Slade respectively in the back-line. Those two alone add up to 34st 8lb, according to their programme weights. Then you factor in that Manu Tuilagi combines with Te’o in the centres.
In the pack you also see Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury and Brad Shields making their first starts of the tournament.
For Italy, talismanic No 8 Sergio Parisse and Sebastian Negri return to the back row in a much changed forward pack. Hooker Luca Bigi makes his first start of the tournament and Braam Steyn has shifted from No 8 to openside to accommodate Parisse.
The backline remains the same from the side who went so well against Ireland.
What have the coaches said?
England coach Eddie Jones said: “We have had a good preparation ahead of Italy with a great week in Oxford where we competed against Georgia for two days. Players have had a good break and have come back into camp reenergised and refocused for what is an important game for us.”
Italy’s Conor O’Shea said: “He won’t say it, but certainly in the backline it is the one (Jones) is dreaming of. We are looking forward to the challenge that brings. We will be put under huge duress by an absolutely enormous English team.“It’s an incredibly strong England team and they’ll be out sniffing blood and looking to prove a point. We know we’ll be under the pump at Twickenham, we know they will be baying for blood. Eddie has named this strong team, they’ll be full metal jacket and we’re ready.”
Any interesting statistics?
- England’s biggest ever victory in the Six Nations was an 80-23, ten-try win over Italy in 2001.
- Italy were the last team to stop England scoring a try at home in the Six Nations, back in 2013. England could only score through Toby Flood’s boot that day and scraped an 18-11 win.
- Te’0, Tuilagi and Cokanasiga combined weigh 338kg – roughly the average weight of three newborn baby elephants
- England have kicked out of hand more than any team in the Six Nations so far, with 112. Italy have kicked out of hand the fewest times, with 58.
- England lead the try-scoring charts with 11 five-pointers.
- Italy’s goal-kicking success rate in this year’s tournament is a lowly 42.9%.
- Italy have scored a try roughly every 34.3 minutes this tournament.
- England have scored 31 tries in total over their last five meetings with Italy.
England v Italy, Saturday 9 March, Twickenham
The game kicks off at 4.45pm and is live on ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live, as well as being shown Virgin One in Ireland.
Australia’s Nic Berry is the referee for this match and is assisted by Paul Williams of New Zealand and Andrew Brace from Ireland. His fellow countryman Simon McDowell is the TMO.
England: Elliot Daly; Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Te’o, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis, Brad Shields, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: LukeCowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Dan Cole, Nathan Hughes, Mark Wilson, Dan Robson, George Ford, Henry Slade.
Italy: Jayden Hayward; Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito; Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Andrea Lovotti, Luca Bigi, Simone Ferrari, Federico Ruzza, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, David Sisi, Jake Polledri, Guglielmo Palazzani, Ian McKinley, Tommaso Castello