England braced for Italy onslaught
February 10, 2011
England manager Martin Johnson casts his eye over training earlier this week © Getty Images
England will look to cement their strong start to this year's Six Nations against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
Martin Johnson's side launched their latest Championship campaign with a hard-fought 26-19 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium last Friday - their first victory in the Welsh capital since 2003. That rare success leaves England well placed for a strong title challenge, with the Azzurri clash the first of three successive home games.
England swept Italy aside on their last visit to Twickenham - thanks largely to the selection shocker that saw world-class flanker Mauro Bergamasco deployed at scrum-half - but the days of outclassing the Azzurri are long gone. Nick Mallett's side held England to a seven-point win in Rome last year and they also came agonisingly close to a historic victory over Ireland last Saturday before slipping to a 13-11 defeat.
No doubt bolstered by their showing against the Irish, Italy still have it all to do against a side they have never beaten and who are sensing an end to their Championship drought. A bruising battle awaits.
England - Player to Watch: Winger Chris Ashton grabbed a brace and an ear-bashing against Wales and will be confident of wreaking havoc in the Italian defence.
England - Team News: England did opt for the same starting XV that accounted for Wales but a back injury to loose-head Andrew Sheridan saw Alex Corbisiero promoted straight into the line-up in a late change. Toby Flood will once again pull the strings at fly-half and two-try hero Ashton will fill the right wing berth. Centre Mike Tindall continues to lead the side in the absence of injured skipper Lewis Moody. In the only change to the bench, flanker Hendre Fourie takes Joe Worsley's place on the bench.
Italy - Player to Watch: Fullback Luke McLean clocked up some impressive stats with ball in hand last week - including a try - and is sure to be kept busy again.
Italy - Team News: Brive fly-half Luciano Orquera is handed the No.10 shirt in favour of Kris Burton while Pablo Canavosio steps in for Edoardo Gori at scrum-half, having appeared as a replacement for his injured team-mate last weekend. Elsewhere, Valerio Bernabo comes in at blindside flanker for the injured Josh Sole while South African-born lock Carlo Del Fava gets the nod in favour of Santiago Dellape'.
Key Battle: Italy's pack is traditionally the strongest part of their game but they face a stern challenge in the form of a fired-up England eight. The front-row battle in particular looks fascinating with rival tight-heads and Leicester team-mates - England's Dan Cole and Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni - set to play pivotal roles.
Trivia: The Bergamasco brothers, Mirco (76) and Mauro (84), and their father Arturo (4), have a family collection of 164 caps.
Stats: England's average winning margin against Italy in the Six Nations is 28 points. They have never lost to Italy and have recorded 11 straight victories over the Azzurri in the Championship.
"There is a pecking order in my eyes and I am not at No.1."
"I am really excited about the future for this side. The core of the team has been together for a number of years now. Everyone knows the game structure, the systems we have been working on. Within the team we have a lot of partnerships who have played a lot of rugby together."
The Odds: Fancy Italy to run England close? Bet365 are currently offering an England winning margin of between 6 and 10 points at 10-1.
Fantasy: England speedster Chris Ashton was the top scorer in the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby game in Round 1 - fancy him for a repeat? If so he should be in your line-up - if he isn't already!
Prediction: England appear to be building up an impressive head of steam and a gutsy Italian side will struggle to contain their multi-dimensional hosts.
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