Preview: England v Italy

Date published: February 11 2011

England fans will be praying for a smoother passage past Italy than in 2010 when they collide in Round Two of the Six Nations.

England supporters will be praying for a smoother passage past Italy than in 2010 when they collide in Round Two of the Six Nations on Saturday.

It was at this stage last year when the Azzurri handed the English a reality check in Rome after a decent 30-17 opening against Wales. That ensuing showing at Stadio Flaminio was one that had become synonymous with the Red Rose for what felt like an eternity since World Cup 2003.

Held at 6-all at the interval, England only secured a narrow win thanks to a Mathew Tait score and a further six points from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson.

But this time around there is a feeling more than ever that Martin Johnson and his staff have found the right combinations and more importantly a style. Finally there is a structure to back-play as dummy runners are no longer just a bonus but a necessity for Toby Flood to use as defender holders. Their effort against Wales also illustrated that there is much more of a cutting edge to Johnson's crop in 2011 as they took their chances in a clinical fashion, unlike their struggling hosts.

Wilkinson coming off the replacements bench to help close out games will also be a useful weapon in New Zealand, as will the expected impact from flank Hendre Fourie.

Johnson also seems a lot calmer than in the past, with a relaxed fist clench in celebration compared to a table punch in anger a sign of changing times. And why wouldn't he be content as the likes of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Mark Cueto, Toby Flood, Tom Wood, Nick Easter and Tom Palmer played faultlessly last weekend.

Some are now even talking about a Grand Slam being claimed in Dublin on March 19 due to their three-game home run, which begins on Saturday. Far-fetched? Maybe a tad as France were strong against Round Four opponents Scotland, who also showed that they're on the up. Andy Robinson is doing very good things and has duly been rewarded with a new deal that takes the former England coach through until 2015. It should be a fiery Calcutta Cup.

There is little surprise that his successor, Johnson, has decided not to tinker his line-up for Saturday's visitors though, with Fourie the only change to the 22. He comes in for Joe Worsley as England look to make it 17 straight wins in Tests against the Azzurri.

Italy meanwhile have made four changes to the side that lost their Six Nations opener with Ireland in such painful circumstances. Luciano Orquera returns having not featured since 2005, Valerio Bernabo earns his first start in the tournament due to Josh Sole's ankle injury, Pablo Canavosio replaces injured scrum-half Edoardo Gori, who dislocated his shoulder during his team's loss in Rome while Carlo Del Fava will partner Quintin Geldenhuys.

And going off week one it's not unlikely that Wales – if they lose at Murrayfield – will be the ones battling it out with Italy to avoid the Wooden Spoon. It could have been so different though had the Azzurri kept Ronan O'Gara at bay to record their first victory over Ireland.

They must be kicking themselves. And kick themselves they might but if they don't bury that loss from their memory then England could make it a tough 80 minutes at Twickenham.

Ones to watch:

For England: If on the front foot and enjoying the lion's share of possession, it could be a profitable day for the English back-three. We expect Mark Cueto to finally get a reward for all his hard work with a score but it's Ben Foden who will cause the Azzurri the most problems.

For Italy: Following three years of international exile, Luciano Orquera returns to the blue jersey after Kris Burton was dropped to bench duty by coach Nick Mallett. He has a tough assignment ahead of him though and if he's not up to the task then he may be swamped.

Head-to-head: Grunt meets gristle at Twickenham as the front-row battle between Andrew Sheridan and Martin Castrogiovanni promises much. Barring France these two nations probably have the most streetwise tight threes in the 2011 championship and with the size of David Wilson and Andrea Lo Cicero lying in wait, expect it to be tasty as Dan Cole goes up against the side he made his international debut against last season.

Recent results:

2010: England won 17-12 in Rome
2009: England won 36-11 at Twickenham
2008: England won 23-19 in Rome
2007: England won 20-7 at Twickenham
2006: England won 31-16 in Rome
2005: England won 39-7 at Twickenham
2004: England won 50-9 in Rome
2003: England won 40-5 at Twickenham
2002: England won 45-9 in Rome
2001: England won 80-23 at Twickenham

Prediction: Stadio Flaminio is a long way from Twickenham and therefore it shouldn't be a repeat of 2010. England to cruise this one by 23 points!

The teams:

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall (capt), 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Hendre Fourie, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Matt Banahan.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Valerio Bernabo, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Santiago Dellape, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Kris Burton, 22 Gonzalo Garcia.

Date: Saturday, February 12
Kick-off: 14:30
Venue: Twickenham
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Peter Allan (Scotland)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)

By Adam Kyriacou