England out to build on opening win
February 10, 2012
Rome's Stadio Olimpico is set to make its Six Nations bow for the clash between Italy and England on Saturday © Getty Images
The Six Nations will welcome its latest new face on Saturday with the Stadio Olimpico set to play host to Italy's clash with England.
England opened their Six Nations account with a gutsy 13-6 victory over Scotland last weekend but Stuart Lancaster's new-look side face another stern test of their credentials in the confines of Italy's new 82,000-capacity home. The Azzurri slumped to a disappointing 30-12 defeat to France in their opener and will be hoping that a switch to the Olimpico, following delays in the re-development of their usual Stadio Flaminio base, will result in a change of form and fortune.
The history books offer little hope to the hosts who have yet to beat their English rivals but a narrow 17-12 loss the last time these two sides last met in Rome and the notable scalp of France in last year's Six Nations illustrate that Italy are by no means also-rans. Jacques Brunel's side may view this relatively-inexperienced England side as ripe for the taking but they will still need to raise their game against a side flushed with talent and seemingly growing in confidence.
Italy - Player to Watch: Treviso flanker Robert Barbieri has caught the eye on the domestic stage this season and will relish the chance to tackle an England back-row still finding their feet.
Italy - Team News: Aironi lock Marco Bortolami will earn his 90th cap with as he replaces Benetton Treviso's Cornelius Van Zyl. Bortolami will partner club team-mate Quintin Geldenhuys, while Clermont-Auvergne centre Gonzalo Canale will start in place of Alberto Sgarbi, who has been omitted from the squad. There are a further three changes to the bench and Benetton Treviso captain Antonio Pavanello could make his Six Nations debut while 20-year-old centre Luca Morisi is in line for his Test bow.
England - Player to Watch: No.8 Phil Dowson came in for some criticism on his Test debut last weekend and will need to up his game to prove those doubters wrong. There also happens to be the challenge of Italy No.8 Sergio Parisse awaiting him.
England - Team News: It's same again for England with Stuart Lancaster rewarding the entire squad that edged out Scotland by giving them a chance to back that win up with another. Northampton's Phil Dowson has held off a challenge from Ben Morgan to keep his place at No.8. Morgan will be primed to make an impact off the bench just as the 22-year-old did on a confident Test debut against Scotland. Charlie Hodgson has recovered from a blow to the shoulder to continue at fly-half with Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt again forming an all-Saracens midfield. Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson has recovered from a hand injury to retain his place on the bench, where England stick with a four-three split between forwards and backs.
Key Battle: England's front row of Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole made a significant impression on last weekend's game at Murrayfield but they arguably face a step up in class against the Italian trio of Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni.
Trivia: Stadio Olimpico becomes the eighth different venue to stage a Six Nations encounter. Just four previous Test matches have been staged at the venue, the last of which was in 1996 against Wales - Italy have never won there.
Stats: England's only two defeats in a round two game in Six Nations history was at home to France in 2005 and away to Wales in 2009.
"When they first said they were going to hold the game at the Olympic Stadium, we were uncertain whether the ground might be too big. But, having sold that amount of tickets [60,000] so long before kick-off, it proves it was the right decision."
"'What does pride in the shirt and professionalism look like? What does commitment look like?"
Prediction: Expect the feel-good factor surrounding the Lancaster era to continue with a hard-earned win - but don't expect too much breathing room.
© 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