England make five changes for Italy clash
March 8, 2013
Stuart Lancaster explains his changes%]
England coach Stuart Lancaster has made five changes to his side for their Six Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
Saracens prop Mako Vunipola is handed his first start in the place of Joe Marler while Tom Youngs returns at hooker with Dylan Hartley making way.
Toby Flood reclaims the No.10 shirt with Owen Farrell yet to recover from the thigh injury he suffered in the 23-13 victory over France last time out. Flood will partner Danny Care who gets the nod over Ben Youngs at scrum-half with James Haskell preferred at blindside flanker instead of Courtney Lawes in the other change to the starting line-up.
A fit-again Freddie Burns will provide fly-half cover on the bench and joining him among the replacements is Tom Croft who returns to the England fold 11 months after a broken neck almost left him paralysed. Croft made his comeback for Leicester on January 4 and he rejoined the England squad after being given medical clearance to play every week.
After three consecutive victories, Lancaster always intended to "freshen up" the side as England target a victory over Italy that will keep their hopes of a first Grand Slam since 2003 alive. "We were very happy with the way we finished the France game. The impact the replacements made shows that we have competition for places across the board and we have had to make some tight calls," said Lancaster.
"Italy will be highly motivated for this game and we will have to perform for the full 80 minutes. I am sure those starting will seize their chance and the bench will also have a significant part to play as the game goes on. The support at Twickenham for the Scotland and France games was superb and I am sure the atmosphere will be fantastic again for our final home match of the championship."
Lancaster has chosen to freshen up his side and his confident that those players who have previously been limited to bench duty - including Care - will grab their opportunity to impress. "They (Care and Ben Youngs) are unbelievably close. They are both high-quality players, in great form and in great condition and pushing each other," Lancaster said. "Danny Care has waited patiently for his opportunity. In freshening the team up, sometimes when you have a guy who is desperate to play that can help the team."
Vunipola and Tom Youngs are also rewarded for eye-catching cameos against France where they helped to get their side over the line. "Mako gets his first start and everyone is delighted with that. He has thoroughly deserved his chance and we are looking forward to seeing how he goes," Lancaster said. "All the front rowers looked at that (the scrum) and bringing Mako in for his start and Tom in for his scrummaging and ball carrying, it will hopefully address that."
Lancaster also revealed that Farrell is close to being involved but is still only kicking at 80% but there were no lingering doubts regarding Croft's match fitness. "The key point was I wanted to be sure he was back up to speed. He was a key figurehead in the Six Nations last year and while the team has evolved the principles have remained same," Lancaster said. "He runs great lines in attack, he is back up to speed in our defence and it is great to have him back in the side."
England are overwhelming favourites to extend their unbeaten record but Lancaster is not a gambling man. "I don't look at the bookie's odds because they are irrelevant. What is relevant is what mindset you turn up in," Lancaster said. "I am always looking through the course of any week, asking are we ready, are we too anxious, are we in the right place? We are in a good place going into the game. Those players who are not involved are still 100% behind the team. That is the making of a good team."
And Lancaster refuses to write Italy off particularly following the return from suspension of captain Sergio Parisse. "We know the improvement they have made and the quality they have," Lancaster said. "Parisse coming back is a huge psychological lift and it adds a huge amount in terms of experience. All things point towards Italy putting in a strong performance and we have to be ready."
England: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Marler (Harlequins), C Lawes (Northampton), T Croft (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester), F Burns (Gloucester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September