England target next stage of Slam
March 10, 2013
England's Tom Croft clearly has reason to smile having battled back from a broken neck to claim a place on the bench for Sunday's clash © Getty Images
England will be hoping to edge nearer a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 when they play host to Italy at Twickenham on Sunday.
Head to Head
England will enter the game as clear favourites having never lost to the Italians and dominated them at Twickenham - winning their most recent encounter at HQ by 46 points. But the Azzurri pushed England all the way in Rome last year and their stunning victory over France last month underlined the fact that at their best they are a threat to all their Six Nations rivals. But unfortunately they have failed to back that impressive showing up with Scotland and then Wales bringing them crashing back down to earth.
The odds are stacked heavily in England's favour but they will be wary of writing off their rivals who received a major boost earlier this week when captain Sergio Parisse won an appeal against a recent ban that cleared him for action.
England - Player to Watch: Some would have you believe that Chris Ashton does not deserve a place in the current England side but can he recapture the kind of form that saw him claim four tries the last time Italy visited Twickenham.
England - Team News: 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 a thigh injury he suffered against France. 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.
Italy- Player to Watch: Italy captain Sergio Parisse is more used to picking up Man of the Match awards rather than suspensions so expect him to do all he can he hits the headlines for the right reasons following this game.
Italy - Team News: Sergio Parisse returns from suspension at No.8 and reclaims the captaincy with Manoa Vosawai making way in one of five changes to the pack that started the defeat to Wales last month. Roberto Barbieri starts at blindside ahead Alessandro Zanni while Quentin Geldenhuys and Joshua Furno form a new second row pairing with Antonio Pavanello and Francesco Minto dropping to the bench. In the final change up front, Alberto De Marchi is preferred to veteran Andrea Lo Cicero. Luciano Orquera returns to the No.10 shirt with Kris Burton omitted while Gonzalo Garcia comes into the midfield with Gonzalo Canale moving to outside centre and Tommaso Benvenuti named among the replacement.
Key Battle: Italy's formidable pack took a bit of a hammering at the hands of Wales and the referee last time out and will no doubt be determined to reassert themselves with a strong showing at Twickenham - but this England pack are made of equally impressive stuff and have no reason to fear anyone. Their battle will be bruising and enthralling and will go a long way to deciding the contest.
Trivia: Fly-half Toby Flood is the only player in the England squad with more than 50 caps (55) with seven of the 23 still boasting single-digit Test totals - Alex Goode (9), Mako Vunipola (7), Tom Youngs (7), Joe Launchbury (7), Joe Marler (8), Freddie Burns (1) and Billy Twelvetrees (2).
Stats: England have won all six of the Six Nations games they have played against Italy at Twickenham by a combined 173 points with an average winning margin of 29 points.
Betting: Fancy England to sweep Italy aside in style? Bet365 are offering 13/2 for an England victory by 31-35 points. Or could Italy do the unthinkable and derail England's Grand Slam train? Bet365 don't think so but you may be tempted by their offer of 28/1.
Crofty realises what he had and what he could have lost, and he's focused on being the best he can be now. He's played a handful of games for Leicester and probably been the best player on the field. Yes, he's fresh and everyone else is knackered halfway through the season, which helps, but he's a class player"
"Sergio is an important element for this group, and we could not be happier to be able to make him available to Jacques Brunel for matches against England and Ireland"
Prediction: The return of Sergio Parisse certainly strengthens Italy's hand going into this clash but an England side boasting significant momentum will have far too much for them in every department.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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