England poised to tweak line-up for Italy clash
March 7, 2013
If the Vunipola brothers - Mako and Billy (pictured) and the Youngs brothers - Ben and Tom - face Italy on Saturday, it will be the first time in 114 years that two sets of brothers have played for England in the same game. © Getty Images
Analysis by ESPNscrum's John Griffiths
England coach Stuart Lancaster is set to make several changes to his Six Nations Grand Slam-chasing side for their clash with Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
Lancaster will finalise his starting line-up tomorrow with Leicester fly-half Toby Flood assured of a promotion with first-choice No.10 Owen Farrell with the Saracens playmaker still battling to recover from a thigh injury he suffered in the 23-13 victory over France last month. Flood is likely to be joined by in-form Quins scrum-half Danny Care in a new-look half-back with Leicester's Ben Youngs set to be named among the replacements.
Saracens prop Mako Vunipola is also tipped to make his first England start with rival loose-head Joe Marler dropping to the bench while Leicester's Tom Youngs is expected to reclaim his place at hooker at the expense of Northampton's Dylan Hartley. Elsewhere up front, Wasps' James Haskell is reportedly set to return to the side at blindside flanker in favour of Northampton's Courtney Lawes.
Vunipola is confident he can step up to the task of helping to shackle a formidable Italy front-row. "I am definitely ready," Vunipola told PA Sport. "As a player you want to give the coaches confidence to give you a start. I am ready to do whatever job for the team against an experienced Italian team with Martin Castrogiovanni and Andrea Lo Cicero and a very strong pack.
"Castrogiovanni has been one of their big players. This is going to be a massive challenge, nearly as big as the French. We are going into it confident we can stick with them."
Under-fire Saracens winger Chris Ashton looks set to retain his place on the right wing despite widespread criticism for his display against France while Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi will once again spearhead the England midfield having recovered from the horrific ear injury he picked up on his side's last Twickenham outing.
Leicester back-row Tom Croft is also pushing for an international return having recovered from a career-threatening neck injury. Croft is set to vie with Wasps' Billy Vunipola who had been due to start on the bench against France before he was ruled out with an ankle injury.
The uncapped Billy Vunipola has also offered an insight into the fitness overhaul that has seen him shed three stone since adopting a new regime devised by England's strength and power coach Neil Taylor. "The management sat us down and said we needed to shed a few pounds if we wanted to play to a high level," Billy told the The Daily Mail newspaper.
"We'd starve ourselves by not having breakfast or lunch, then come home and eat so much junk food," he said. "We'd feast on whatever is quickest, the fastest food we could get our hands on: carbs, bread - our favourite - potato, chocolate. And we'd eat a lot of it. Junk food is so cheap and those "buy one, get one free" deals didn't help us at all."
If Lancaster opts to pick both the Vunipola Youngs brothers, it will be the first time in 114 years that two sets of brothers have played for England in the same game. The only previous occasion that it has happened was when the Stout brothers - Percy and Frank - and the Davidson brothers - Jos and Jas - all featured in the 5-0 defeat to Scotland at Blackheath in 1899.
England: (probable line-up) Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown; Toby Flood, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Wood
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton