Vickery braced for battle with revamped Italy pack

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The Independent Online

Phil Vickery's last live scrummaging session, against a ferociously motivated England Under-20s pack keen to give their elders and betters what for, ended with the red-rose captain shedding a good deal of blood for the common cause. Vickery confidently expects plenty more of the same tomorrow from an Italian pack who will arrive at Twickenham smarting from their Six Nations misfire against France in Rome six days ago. "They'll bring some real clout with them," the England captain said. "It won't be particularly pretty."

The prospect of a full-on battle with a revamped Azzurri front row many consider to be even stronger than the one that grappled manfully with the French - Andrea Lo Cicero, Carlo Festuccia and Martin Castrogiovanni have been selected ahead of Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro and Carlos Nieto - is enough to persuade the tight-head prop from Wasps that his side's opening-day victory over Scotland belongs where he has already placed it, in the dustbin of history.

"I don't dismiss last weekend's performance," Vickery said yesterday. "The win over the Scots was exactly what we needed, both in terms of the result and the performance. But we have to remind ourselves of what we're about, because real reputations aren't made overnight and those that are usually crumble very quickly. Last week, we took the field as a brand new side inspired by a fear of losing. Where do we find that same fear this week? That's the question."

There was mixed news from the England squad as they left their training base at Bath for the West London hotel they have taken to using in the hours leading into a Twickenham fixture. Martin Corry, the Leicester No 8 and Vickery's predecessor as captain, trained fully after sitting out two days with an arm infection. So too did the Gloucester full-back Iain Balshaw, who missed the Calcutta Cup match with a groin injury. Both are expected to start proceedings tomorrow.

On the down side, Lewis Moody was ruled out of the entire tournament after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. The Leicester flanker, who now has two pins holding a torn labrum muscle together, will be incapacitated for six weeks and must now aim for his club's EDF Energy Cup semi-final with Sale in Cardiff in late March.

John Wells, the England forwards coach, shared Vickery's thoughts about the strength of the visiting pack. "Without being disrespectful to Scotland, we have to put last week's performance into perspective," he said. "Back in the autumn, we came up against New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa. We had our problems against the three of them. We played some decent stuff against the Scots, but we'll have to do better still against the Italians if we're not to be exposed."

Holed below the waterline by injuries to two crucial personnel, the flanker Mauro Bergamasco and the wing-cum-centre Andrea Masi, the visitors have made seven changes to the side that shipped 39 points to the French. Besides rotating the front-rowers, the coach Pierre Berbizier has introduced Maurizio Zaffiri to the back row, handed the right wing role to the New Zealand-born Kaine Robertson and switched Denis Dallan across to the left to fill the gap left by Masi. Most significantly of all, he has recalled Alessandro Troncon, one of the defining figures in the Italian game, at scrum-half.

Troncon, the 33-year-old former captain who falls out with the Azzurri hierarchy almost as often as Roman senators once fell out with each other, will win his 92nd cap, having not played championship rugby for two years. He replaces another exiled New Zealander in Paul Griffen, who struggled to make headway against the French.

Meanwhile, the Scots were in bullish mood ahead of their meeting with Wales at Murrayfield, despite being out-muscled and out-thought at Twickenham. "We debriefed heavily on Monday, and since then it has been about looking forward instead of looking back," said Chris Paterson, their captain. "We're expecting an entirely different game this weekend - much quicker and more open. With the work we've put in on our decision-making, I'm sure we'll get the win."

Of the three changes, Paterson sees the return of the Lions lock Scott Murray as a major bonus. "He knows what it takes to beat Wales," the captain explained. "When you play Welsh teams you need that, because a lot of cheating goes on around the breakdown. The experience of a guy like Scotty will help us there."

Italy (for Six Nations Championship match vs England, Twickenham, tomorrow): R De Marigny (Calvisano); K Robertson (Arix Viadana), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), D Dallan (Stade Francais); A Scanavacca (Calvisano), A Troncon (Clermont Auvergne); A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila), C Festuccia (Gran Parma), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), S Dellape (Biarritz), M Bortolami (Gloucester, captain), J Sole (Arix Viadana), M Zaffiri (Calvisano), S Parisse (Stade Francais). Replacements: F Ongaro (Saracens), S Perugini (Stade Toulousain), V Bernabo (Calvisano), R Mandelli (Gran Parma), P Griffen (Calvisano), R Pez (Bayonne), M Pratichetti (Calvisano).

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