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Preview: Italy v England

10th February 2012 07:16

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Six Nations Twickenham England v Italy huddle

Should be fiery: Italy v England

Despite them being comfortably beaten by France in Paris, Italy will no doubt enter Saturday's meeting with the English full of confidence at Stadio Olimpico.

As is the way of the Azzurri, they had managed to hold a bigger-named rival to a slender margin for a large period - 15-9 after 50 minutes to be exact.

But then the opposition clicked into top gear and outclassed Italy to eventually cruise. Now the question is, do England have the same class?

"We analysed the Rugby World Cup matches and up to the 60th minutes it was always 9-6, 6-6, and it was really in the final 20 minutes that you saw the difference so we had to be patient," said new France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre following their tough win at Stade de France last weekend.

"We saw in their game a tactic to go for territory but today they were much more ambitious in their game-plan and keeping the ball.

"Italy employed a strategy that saw them keep the ball. They didn't give it up easily."

Expect exactly the same grit and determination in Rome this Saturday as Jacques Brunel will be hoping his side replicate the performance that defeated France in this tournament last season. He makes two changes to his side as Aironi lock Marco Bortolami will earn his 90th cap as he replaces Treviso's Cornelius Van Zyl. That decision has left many bemused as nothing has been mentioned on whether Van Zyl suffered an injury in his strong showing.

In the backline, Clermont centre Gonzalo Canale will start in place of Alberto Sgarbi, who has been omitted from the squad. He'll give the Azzurri plenty of grunt alongside Tommaso Benvenuti, with both needing to win personal battles against Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt.

"I believe we can do it and all the team really believes we can do it," revealed Canale, despite the English having won all seventeen internationals against Italy to date.

Confidence indeed as bookmakers have Italy at 3/1 and the visitors starting at 1/4, which does seem a touch off the mark for a game that is expected to be close. England did not create much against Scotland and should that trend continue, there may be something of a stalemate. However, the Italians are not known for their attacking prowess and as England showed in Edinburgh, their defence looks to be on the money. Is it a recipe for dullness?

England might not care about flair though and - by their own count - they made more tackles than ever before in a Test match and conceded a mere nine penalties at Murrayfield. The old adage of winning because of defence could well be the formula England adopt under Stuart Lancaster. Comparing to last year against Italy, Chris Ashton scored four as England won 59-13 - but also they conceded 18 penalties, so there is expected to be a shift in thinking.

"It's a mindset in the team now, with people realising the impact it can have on a game if we keep giving away penalties. It is massive for us," said Ashton, who starts in an unchanged starting line-up and bench as Lancaster gives a second chance to the likes of Phil Dowson.

"At the World Cup it cost us a lot and in the end it is what got us knocked out, basically. It is something we have focused on a lot.

"Sometimes when you are involved with the team, you can't see that [behaviour off the pitch could influence performance on it].

"Sometimes it takes someone like Stu to come in from the outside and realise that."

Lessons seem to be being learnt by England but will they pass their Italian test?

Ones to watch:

For Italy: Aironi lock Marco Bortolami will earn his 90th cap as he replaces Treviso's Cornelius Van Zyl in the second-row, who put in a superb performance last weekend. Bortolami has got to follow suit this week and not let the side down as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to fathom that the hosts will be looking to get amongst England from the outset. Of course, it would also be worthwhile keeping an eye on that man Sergio Parisse.

For England: Keeping the scoreboard ticking over is key in Rome and that is why Owen Farrell and Chris Robshaw need to be on the same page when offences present themselves. Last week's joint top-tackler Brad Barritt is expected to produce another steely performance while we're expecting a bit more from number eight Phil Dowson this week and would not be surprised if he popped up wide out for an English score.

Head-to-head: We are most looking forward to seeing how young pretender Alex Corbisiero fronts up against the gritty Martin Castrogiovanni. There is little doubt that the Leicester tighthead will be going after his Aviva Premiership rival on Saturday and it will comfort Stuart Lancaster knowing that Matt Stevens is an option should things get a touch uncomfortable. Elsewhere, the Gonzalo Canale against Owen Farrell battle sees two different styles collide.

Recent results:

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
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: It is going to be a gruelling day at the office but England to win by 6-10 points!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Marco Bortolami, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Antonio Pavanello, 19 Mauro Bergamasco, 20 Fabio Semenzato, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luca Morisi.

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Phil Dowson, 7 Chris Robshaw (c) 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Geoff Parling, 19 Ben Morgan, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Jordan Turner-Hall, 22 Mike Brown.

Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 17:00 (16:00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France)

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PosTeamPPts
1Ireland58
2England58
3Wales56
4France56
5Scotland52
6Italy50