Six Nations: England v Italy match preview
A look ahead to this weekend’s Six Nations fixture at Twickenham
England will be hopeful of a slightly more comfortable victory when Italy arrive at Twickenham in the RBS Six Nations on Sunday, as they look to continue their impressive march towards a Grand Slam. Having battled to a nervy 23-13 victory against France two weeks ago, Stuart Lancaster’s side will look to despatch an Italian side that has struggled to perform since a mesmerising 23-18 triumph over France on the opening weekend.
Having claimed much of the praise for the turnaround against France, many of England's replacements have been rewarded with a starting berth. Toby Flood will start for the injured Owen Farrell, who had to leave the field against the Tricolore after he broke down with a hamstring strain. Flood looked assured in attack and kicked perfectly in Farrell's absence, giving Lancaster a timely reminder that he has other options at 10.
Farrell's Saracens teammate Mako Vunipola comes into the front-row for his first start with Joe Marler dropping to the bench, as does Courtney Lawes who makes way for James Haskell in the back-row. Danny Care gets a chance to impress as he replaces Ben Youngs, though the Leicester Tigers scrum-half has been very impressive throughout this campaign and the pressure is on Care to deliver if he wants to rip the starting jersey away from Youngs.
Youngs' older brother Tom returns at hooker after Dylan Hartley disappointed against France, though the Northampton Saints captain did star when he featured for his club against London Irish last weekend. There is also a welcome return for Tom Croft to the replacements, 11 months after he suffered a broken neck that nearly left him paralysed. Croft, widely regarded as one of the most skilful back-row players in the world when fit, has played five games for the Tigers in his comeback, and will be hoping that a run of fitness could lead to a starting berth and a second Lions call-up in the summer.
Italy have been boosted with the news that stalwart Sergio Parisse will be available following a successful appeal against his 30-day ban for verbally abusing referee Laurent Cardona while playing for Stade Francais against Bordeaux-Begles. The Number 8 saw the ban reduced to 20 days and the influential captain will be available in time for Sunday's clash. Parisse will lead out his side as they continue their quest for a first win over England since the sides first met in 1991.
England - Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Mike Brown; Toby Flood, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole; Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw (c), Tom Wood.
Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Dave Wilson, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees.
Italy - not available
KICK-OFF: Sunday, 3pm.
PAST THREE MEETINGS...
Italy 15 England 19, Six Nations, February 2012
England 59 Italy 13, Six Nations, February 2011
Italy 12 England 17, Six Nations, February 2010
England have won all 18 meetings between the two sides, though the Italians did earn a 15-15 draw against an England XV in 1986.
England have beaten Italy by over 40 points on five occasions - 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2011.
Martin Castrogiovanni will make his 11th appearance against England on Sunday - more than any other Italian player. Mirco Bergamasco is currently level with Castrogiovanni on 10.
Chris Ashton has scored four tries against the Italians, with all four coming in 2011 in the 59-13 rout at Twickenham. Danny Care, Toby Flood and James Haskell have one try each.
Only Tommaso Benvenuti and Giovanbattista Venditti have scored a try against England from the current squad.
PLAYER TO WATCH...
England: Manu Tuilagi - The Leicester centre lifted Twickenham each time he received the ball against France, and rightly so. He consistently broke the gainline and trampled over those in front of him, and not even a tear to his ear that required 17 stitches could stop him. Against a weaker midfield, Tuilagi could run rampant on Sunday, and the requirement to double-man Tuilagi will leave space for those such as Chris Ashton to maximise.
Italy: Sergio Parisse - The Italian captain carries his team at times, and despite the 94-capped Martin Castrogiovanni leading the side, Italy were clearly missing their leader. His ball carrying and leadership are second to none, and you can guarantee he will give his all whatever the score. He will need to inspire his side like never before if the Azzurri are to break the English stranglehold on them.
18 March 2000 - Italy 12 England 59
It was the first time that England would visit Rome as part of the newly expanded Six Nations. The introduction of the Italians didn't faze Clive Woodward's side, and an Austin Healy hat-trick was enough to see off the Azzurri comfortably. Ben Cohen and Matt Dawson scored a brace each while England were also awarded a penalty try. 14 points came from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson and flanker Neil Back managed to get on the score-sheet with a drop goal in what was a baptism of fire for the Italians.
TV: Live on BBC1 at 3pm.
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