Do or die for England in Rome
March 14, 2014
England without Joe Marler for Italy
Talk this week has already turned to England's tour of New Zealand, but before thoughts of that difficult trip to the Antipodes come around, Stuart Lancaster's men will want to finish this year's championship on a high.
After an opening round defeat to France, England have pushed on since to claim three wins on the bounce; how that loss in Paris must hurt Stuart Lancaster and the rest of the team. A whitewash of Scotland was followed up by a hard fought 13-10 win over Ireland and their 29-18 triumph over Wales last weekend.
The championship is now tantalisingly poised with three teams all gunning for the title, with France, Ireland and England all locked on six points each. Unless England get a huge win in Rome, they will need a favour from France if they are to win the title. Ireland currently have a superior points difference of 49 over England and Joe Schmidt's men know a win in Paris will likely hand them their first Six Nations triumph since 2009.
Such permutations for winning the tournament are not a headache for Italy. Despite showing some improvements in their ruthlessness and back play they are still without a win in the 2014 championship and unless they cause an upset on Saturday they will end up with a Wooden Spoon.
Italy will be delighted to have Sergio Parisse back in action, without doubt their standout player of the last decade, but they also have some bright young things in the backs who have done themselves no harm over the past four games. Leonardo Sarto has done well on the flank with Michele Campagnaro also announcing himself on the scene at outside centre.
For England, the strength of their pack has been well-documented with Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes establishing a formidable second-row partnership. The half-backs have also clicked with Danny Care and Owen Farrell working wonderfully in tandem against Wales. Mike Brown at fullback has arguably been the standout player in the 2014 championship and will want to push on in Rome.
Out of form
Italy have showed improvement in this year's Six Nations, as Enrico Borra highlighted earlier this week, but they will know another Wooden Spoon is unlikely to do them many favours.
For England, Lancaster picking an unchanged backline for the fourth game running suggests he has plenty of faith in those players. Wingers Jonny May and Jack Nowell are yet to score a try for England and they will hope to put this right against Italy.
Key area to watch
Parisse has been one of the dominant No.8s in world rugby over the last decade but Ben Morgan is playing well for England. It is credit to Morgan that England did not visibly lack the power of injured Billy Vunipola against Wales and while Morgan played well against Taulupe Falatau, the task will not get any easier against Parisse.
It will be a close first-half with England pulling away in the final quarter to win by 20 points
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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