Italy and England will get Round Two of RBS 6 Nations 2012 started when they face off at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, with the two starting line-ups appearing, on paper at least, to be as close in terms of ability as ever.
Unlike in previous years, when England have come into the Italy match with a team full of RBS 6 Nations winners, World Cup winners and an experienced looking squad, it is Italy who have the more capped team, after England’s Rugby World Cup 2011 squad broke apart.
Under new coach, Jacques Brunel, Italy looked, at times, like a functioning international rugby team against France last week. France were perhaps fortunate to beat them by 18 points, when the margin between the sides was not anything like so large for much of the match.
Unless England can find more cohesion than they produced against the Scots last week – in what was a very new look England – then they can expect a torrid time in Rome. But Stuart Lancaster has been afforded the luxury of fielding the exact same starting lineup, which can only help, including six players in the backs who are very familiar with each other: four Saracens at 10, 11, 12 and 13 and two impressive flyers from Northampton in Ashton and Foden at 14 and 15 mean that England have the weapons to break down what is usually a resolute Italian defence.
Italy, in recent seasons, have looked to grind results with their strong pack slowing the pace. This is perhaps why they have seen more men in the Sin Bin for more minutes than any other 6 Nations side in that time. But, in the France match last week, we saw something slightly different from Italy. They threw the ball a little, and played some more expansive rugby, as the Azzurri looked keen to shake off this tag. A repeat of that kind of play against England, who should have conceded at least one try against the self-destructive Scots last week, could well yield results.
The penalty count will be important, as this match may be decided by who gets – and converts – the kickable penalties. Italy did not give too many away last week, and England, more disciplined than ever under Lancaster, were downright stingy.
For that reason, England are expected to win, by 6-9 points, but Italy can easily upset the applecart by grabbing one or two tries.
This match is not the walkover it once was – another reason not to take one’s eyes off this 6 Nations tournament for a moment.
Italy v England – Starting Lineups, RBS 6 Nations 2012
Italy Starting XV
- 15 Andrea Masi (Aironi Rugby)
- 14 Giovanbattista Venditti (Aironi Rugby)
- 13 Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso)
- 12 Gonzalo Canale (Clermont Auvergne)
- 11 Luke McLean (Benetton Treviso)
- 10 Kris Burton (Benetton Treviso)
- 9 Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso)
- 1 Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro 92)
- 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso)
- 3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers)
- 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (Aironi Rugby)
- 5 Marco Bortolami (Aironi Rugby)
- 6 Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso)
- 7 Robert Barbieri (Benetton Treviso)
- 8 Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais Paris, Capt)
- 16 Tommaso D’Apice (Aironi Rugby)
- 17 Lorenzo Cittadini (Benetton Treviso)
- 18 Antonio Pavanello (Benetton Treviso)
- 19 Mauro Bergamasco (Aironi Rugby)
- 20 Fabio Semenzato (Benetton Treviso)
- 21 Tobias Botes (Benetton Treviso)
- 22 Luca Morisi (Crociati Rugby)
England Starting XV
- 15 Ben Foden (Northampton Saints)
- 14 Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints)
- 13 Brad Barritt (Saracens)
- 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
- 11 David Strettle (Saracens)
- 10 Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)
- 9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
- 1 Alex Corbisiero (London Irish)
- 2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
- 3 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
- 4 Mouritz Botha (Saracens)
- 5 Tom Palmer (Stade Francais)
- 6 Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers)
- 7 Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, Capt)
- 8 Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints)
- 16 Rob Webber (London Wasps)
- 17 Matt Stevens (Saracens)
- 18 Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
- 9 Ben Morgan (Scarlets)
- 20 Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
- 21 Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins)
- 22 Mike Brown (Harlequins)