This weekend in Rome is all about fire and passion. The Stadio Flaminio is a great venue, completely different to the other Six Nations grounds, and the Italians love their rugby. From a distance it may not be obvious, but once you have played against the likes of Viadana or Treviso at club level, let alone against the national side, you soon come to realise the standing of the sport here. It may be a football nation, but don't underestimate how much rugby matters to Italy.
We flew into Rome yesterday and passion is the word that will keep cropping up, on and off the pitch. I played here two years ago and am relishing the chance to do so again. It always seems to be sunny at the Stadio Flaminio and there is always a fantastic atmosphere; the Italian supporters never stop chanting. Despite being much more open than many grounds, it is a stadium that generates a real buzz. Our hotel is only 15 minutes away, right in the middle of the city, so you can soak it all up.
Victory this weekend would put us in a great position going into the Ireland game, but beating Italy has got tougher and tougher over the years. They are well drilled by Nick Mallett and Alessandro Troncon, their former scrum-half. We expect them to take us on up front as their pack has some fantastic scrummagers – you only have to look to their performance against New Zealand in the autumn internationals. The loss of Sergio Parisse is a big one, but they have still got Martin Castrogiovanni – "Castro", my Leicester team-mate; a great character, a great leader, always laughing and when it comes to playing for Italy exceptionally passionate (that word again).
We watched back their game against Ireland and when the game slowed down and was sucked in around the breakdown it suited the Italians. That is a game they can win and that is why we must look to play with a high tempo in Rome.
Bittersweet Wales win
It was great to be back wearing an England shirt again after my injury but I finished last Saturday against Wales with a feeling of frustration. I never really got into the game. I have been playing largely at No 10 for Leicester and only had a couple of games at 12; so much more comes through 10 so when I switch to 12 it can be difficult to get fully involved.
We expected Wales to do something different with their defence but instead they blitzed us from the scrum and lineout, and were aggressive in their phases too. It was just the approach Shaun Edwards uses with Wasps. It took us time to adjust and, although it felt more comfortable as the game went on, it was still a difficult match to get a grasp on. Paul Merson used to say that during Arsenal's peak in the Nineties, when they scored you could see it in the opposition's eyes, the drop in confidence. When you're in a game you can feel the rhythm and when Wales scored those two quick tries in the second half you could sense them snatching back the momentum. But we did what we had to. Overall an odd game really; if we had been offered 30-17 beforehand everyone would have said thanks very much, so we have to be pleased with the outcome.
Johnno: a man of few words
Johnno never really says much in the dressing room after games. On Saturday it was 20 seconds along the lines of: "Well done. That's the first step." Then Dan Cole was awarded his first cap and that was more or less that. We are all well aware of what we have done, and what we need to do better.
I'm sick – and back on the bench
It was not the best start to the week for me. On Sunday night I was not that well and woke up on Monday morning still a bit under the weather. That cleared up soon enough but then on Tuesday morning the phone rang and it was Brian Smith, the manager, telling me that as Riki Flutey was fit I was out of the starting XV. I was disappointed, of course, and frustrated that I had not done more in the Welsh game. This England management, though, are pretty good at using the bench. Every sub will be sitting there on Sunday expecting to get on – the difficulty is not knowing when.Reuse content