England in Rome: Win 1st, win big 2nd
ROME (AP) — England made a big deal last week of decrying any hint of arrogance in the side.
Coach Stuart Lancaster said that reputation no longer applies. On his watch, England players have showed humility and respect for the past and present, while also evolving into world-beaters.
They need a giant pile of points on Saturday in Rome to have a shot at the Six Nations title, but Lancaster says they can’t afford to go for broke until victory against Italy is in the bag.
Because Italy at home deserves respect.
In a three-way shootout for the title with Ireland and France, England at the very least needs to beat Italy. Then it will be cheering for a France win over Ireland. If Ireland earns a rare win in Paris, points differential could come into play, which is why England need as many points as they can put up.
The last time England put 50 on Italy in Italy was 10 years ago. The last Six Nations team to do it was France six years ago.
England has never lost to Italy, and won its last three visits to Rome by margins of only 4, 5 and 4 respectively.
“Winning is the priority,” Lancaster said. “We went to Rome two years ago and it was very difficult. Italy beat France in the Six Nations last year and Ireland struggled. Even Australia struggled in 2012. It’s not an easy place to go and get points, and we know what’s coming.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to finish the Six Nations on a high. We want to back up our recent good performances. The character we’ve shown throughout has been outstanding. The attitude has been the best I’ve known.”
England made a late change before leaving for Rome on Thursday, with prop Joe Marler staying behind to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. He was replaced by British Lions prop Mako Vunipola, in the only change to the side which ended the two-year reign of Wales last Sunday.
“The Wales result was very significant for us but we need to finish the tournament well in Rome,” Lancaster said. “We have had a tight turnaround and the key this week has been to manage the players’ recovery and get them in the best shape for what will be a tough match against Italy.”
The odds are all in England’s favour. Italy has won just once in 12 months, and has yet to win in this Six Nations.
“It’s our last chance,” coach Jacques Brunel said. “A heavy defeat would mean our tournament’s been completely negative and it would be a bit difficult to lift our heads back up.”
Brunel made four changes after the 46-7 hiding from Ireland in Dublin. Captain Sergio Parisse was back after a rest, moving Robert Barbieri to the flanks, and props Matias Aguero and Lorenzo Cittadini will make their first starts in this Six Nations. Uncapped Zebre lock George Biagi, born in Scotland, was in the reserves.
“In recent matches against England we have shown that we can play at their level,” Brunel said. “Let’s see what Italy team we see on Saturday, whether it’s the one of the past few years or the one of the past two weeks.”
Italy: Luke McLean, Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto, Luciano Orquera, Tito Tebaldi; Sergio Parisse (captain), Robert Barbieri, Joshua Furno, Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys, Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matias Aguero. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Michele Rizzo, Alberto de Marchi, George Fabio Biagi, Paul Derbyshire, Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan, Andrea Masi.
England: Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Tom Youngs, Matt Mullan, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Tom Johnson, Lee Dickson, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi.