In the 21 years that Italy have been part of the Six Nations, England are the one team they are yet to beat and few will give them any chance on Saturday as they face a side reeling after defeat to Scotland in Week 1.
These two last met back in October with England thrashing the Azzuri 34-5 to clinch the delayed 2020 Six Nations championship, which had been put on hold for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the 2021 campaign began disappointingly for the reigning champions.
England were beaten at home by Scotland last weekend, the first time they have tasted defeat against the old enemy at Twickenham since 1983 and Eddie Jones has rung the changes ahead of the visit of Italy.
Owen Farrell will move to inside centre and George Ford slotting in at fly-half.
Leicester Tigers’ Ford was among the replacements for that defeat to Scotland as Farrell lined up at 10 with Ollie Lawrence given the opportunity in the No 12 shirt.
It is not only in the backs where England have made changes, with Jones deploying a completely changed front row for the clash with Italy.
Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler, back from injury and suspension respectively, have come in as props and Luke Cowan-Dickie replacing Jamie George at hooker, with the Saracens man dropping to the bench.
Jones believes Cowan-Dickie’s style will be more suited to what could be a tight opening against Italy, allowing George to flourish as the game opens up in the second half.
“Luke did well when he came off the bench and Jamie is traditionally better when the ball is moving around,” Jones said.
“In an Italian game, the ball tends to move around a lot more in the second half than it does the first, and he’ll be at his best there and Luke will give us the power in the first half.”
Italy head coach Franco Smith has made two changes from the side that lost 50-10 to France for the match against England; the experienced pair of centre Carlo Canna and loosehead prop Andrea Lovotti will play at Twickenham following injuries.
Canna starts at inside centre in place of the injured Marco Zanon and loosehead prop Lovotti is preferred ahead of Daniele Rimpelli, who drops out of the matchday 23 altogether.
Eight of the starting XV have caps totals in single digits and the visitors are overwhelming favourites to fall to a 29th successive Six Nations loss on Saturday.
Last Saturday’s opening Six Nations match in Rome saw the Italians beaten 50-10 by France and a further defeat at Twickenham would extend their losing run in the Six Nations to 29 games.
But his is a new-look Italy team under Franco Smith, with the South African very much looking to the futureby bringing through some of the players who have helped Italy record wins over Wales and Scotland at U20 level in recent years.
One of those is 19-year-old Stephen Varney who was born in Wales but has Italian ancestry on his mother’s side.
“People view Italy as a losing nation, but it’s a different generation coming through now,” Varney said. “We’re new to it and were highly motivated to win because of the past, but it’s a totally different squad to what it was 12 or 24 months ago.”
England began the tournament as favourites to claim this year’s Six Nations title and following their defeat to Scotland will be looking to bounce back quickly and emulate Les Bleus’ convincing win over Italy.
Leave a comment
Follow @Matthewjcrist on Twitter