Preview: Italy v England

Date published: February 12 2016

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Despite differing results, positives were taken from both Italy and England's first round matches as they prepare to face off this Sunday.

One would have been hard pressed to find a pundit or supporter that predicted Italy would push France as close as they did last weekend in Paris. But under the continued guidance of Jacques Brunel, they gave a wonderful account of themselves after what was a disappointing World Cup.

A new-look front row held its own against two props who are rated as world class while in fly-half Carlo Canna all that separated him from a dream debut was Jules Plisson's late kick. He would have to settle for a full house of scoring points in a confidence boosting performance.

To a man the Azzurri all stood up well as once again Sergio Parisse led them superbly from the base over a weekend that saw two other number eights also stand out. They were Taulupe Faletau and Parisse's opponent on Sunday, Billy Vunipola, who was outstanding against the Scots.

But was it a flash in the pan showing, like so often has been the case with Italy? Also, were France plain terrible? England will hope so as they look to up the tempo from the Murrayfield win. In comes Mako Vunipola, Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs as Eddie Jones tweaks things.

England won 52-11 the last time they were in Rome but we can't see the Italians being picked off in such a way after what we witnessed in Paris. We do, however, predict a great deal more ball for the likes of Jonathan Joseph, Mike Brown and the wings as the George Ford-Owen Farrell combination gets the leash loosened, so to speak, on a dry track. That should all hopefully lead to a good spectacle.

Tempo is what will beat Italy in a comfortable manner, or as Jones puts it, give them "a good hiding", and if that 10-12 axis does was it threatens then it promises to be a great day for the English, in particular the Vunipolas, Youngs and a backline that could well flourish.

A comprehensive win would leave England sitting pretty in the standings going into a weekend's break before the Round 3 visit of Ireland to Twickenham. Anything but would be surprising as a six-two split on the bench suggests this English forward pack will empty the tank before the cavalry arrives. If the starters have already established a buffer by the 50-minute mark then the result should be by how much and not if.

Players to Watch

For Italy: After an impressive effort against France, putting in a similar performance in his first start on home soil is next on Carlo Canna's agenda. He will know one good game doesn't exempt him from criticism so he must back up his Paris showing against England. Gonzalo Garcia will also need to back up last week's performance alongside him and with his experience, the centre has to lead by example.

For England: It was a surprise to see Ben Youngs not starting against Scotland after his impressive form for Leicester, with Danny Care preferred. This week he returns and will look to take a firm grip on the jersey with a strong performance behind a decent pack that includes Mako Vunipola. Mako and Billy are real talents and, like Youngs, have been excellent in club colours this season. Watch them go.

Head-to-head: Speaking of Billy Vunipola, his battle with Sergio Parisse is unsurprisingly the pick of the tussles in Rome. Both were outstanding last weekend in Edinburgh and Paris respectively. Parisse made a remarkable 91 metres with ball against France while at Murrayfield, Vunipola was a destructive force with 51. Both look in superb form which is great news for the spectacle at Stadio Olimpico.

Previous results:

2015: England won 47-17 at Twickenham
2014: England won 52-11 in Rome
2013: England won 18-11 at Twickenham
2012: England won 19-15 in Rome
2011: England won 59-13 at Twickenham
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

Prediction: The visitors should have too much class and will ultimately wear down Italy before cutting loose. England by 25!

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Andrea Pratichetti

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Maro Itoje, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Alex Goode

Date: Sunday, February 14
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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