Six Nations 2016: Italy vs England preview - Ben Youngs eyes rout in Rome

Reinstated scrum-half says emphasis will be on attack from the start in the Italian capital

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The Independent Online

What chance England’s back division letting rip in Rome on Sunday afternoon, to the tune of the 55 points a remarkably similar line-up put on France in the amazing conclusion to last year’s Six Nations’ Championship? The recalled scrum-half Ben Youngs revealed he and his fellow backs have been encouraged by head coach Eddie Jones to go for Italy’s throats in the same fashion.

“We have been given a licence to do that and we want the attack to click as soon as possible,” said Youngs, who has regained the No 9 jersey from Danny Care after the 15-9 win in Scotland last weekend. “We are approaching it differently from Edinburgh in terms of how we want to play the game and how we want to go about the first 40 minutes and the second.

“The coaches have come up with a gameplan and the boys are 100 per cent behind it. I think we will get opportunities where we will show how far we have come.”

England’s starting backs are the same as took the field in the 55-35 try- fest against the French at Twickenham last March, apart from Luther Burrell’s No 12 jersey being worn now by Owen Farrell, who missed the 2015 Six Nations injured. A part-comical, part-cynical way of looking at the absence of a centre from the bench is that Jones has given up looking for one. With his stated preferences in the position Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi injured, and Burrell, Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees among those tried by the previous coach, Stuart Lancaster, and apparently untrusted by his successor, the replacements comprise Care and Saracens’ full-back Alex Goode alongside six forwards.

So will this restrict Jones’s licence to thrill? Burrell on a good day would carry much greater penetrative threat than Farrell, but on the flipside the latter’s distribution and positional kicking is many times better. What England’s supporters surely want to see continue is the healthy statistic that either Joseph or one of the England back three scored a try in every match but one (in Ireland) in the past 12 months. The potential to punish Italy is obvious, even if the Azzurri took great confidence from their narrow loss in France eight days ago. 

“You only have to look at the guys we have got,” said Youngs. “Georgie Ford, JJ [Joseph], Ant Watson, [Mike] Browny are footballers who are unbelievably gifted in space. And Owen and George are unbelievable at getting those guys into space. I don’t think it will be long.”

Youngs did include the caveat of “when you get to four or more phases it could look a bit disjointed”, and the presence of the power and pace of back-five forwards Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford among the replacements suggests Jones will not stomach stodgy play for long. This is a coach whose formative club, Randwick, fostered David Campese and the Ella brothers, among many other creative greats. “Eddie has worked with some of the best scrum- halves – [Australia’s] Georgie Gregan, Fourie du Preez [of South Africa] – so it is exciting to work with him,” said Youngs. “He has got a huge amount of knowledge and I am just trying to tap into that.”

In return Jones has ordered Youngs and Care to train in a fatigued state on bikes and with “high-velocity running” to get them from ruck to ruck as quickly as possible. In the World Cup, time seemed to stand still on occasion while Youngs contemplated the breakdown. Sharpness is crucial in both body and mind.

“Fitness comes down to how you want to play the game,” Youngs said. “You can play a mauling, slow, kicking game if you want to. But we want to play an attacking game, we want to be threatening from our half as well as their half. To do that you need to play at a high tempo, at a high pace and be able to sustain it.

“That is why it is important, as Eddie has highlighted, that all of us as individuals are as fit as we can possibly be.” Watch out for quick taps, and England’s dual fly-halves Ford and Farrell spreading the ball wide.

It is true the Italy fly-half Carlo Canna became only the second player in more than 130 years of the Championship to post a “full house” of scoring on his first appearance, in France, but it is not often a front-line kicker has a 29 per cent success rate – two from seven in Canna’s case. The extremely raw 23-year-old has only twice kicked points in double figures for his Pro 12 club, Zebre, and would not be starting if Tommy Allan was fit. The hunch is that the French made Canna and company look good. If so, Ford and Farrell and England’s speedy backs ought to have a field day.

If England win – as they should do against a team who have beaten only Samoa, Scotland, Canada and Romania in the past two years – the intriguing upshot is which XV will start against Ireland and Wales at Twickenham on 27 February and 12 March respectively. These matches will be faster-paced than the sometimes ropey stuff seen at Murrayfield, so will Jones still be going in with James Haskell and Chris Robshaw as his flankers?

Trying to sit on a lead failed against a disrupted Welsh back division in the World Cup in September; a lack of pace to the breakdown brought about the calamitous loss to Australia in the same tournament. What happens in the Stadio Olimpico this afternoon, possibly in the less structured attacks of the second half, could shape England’s approach for a long time to come.

Kick-off 2pm GMT, ITV