To use a corny phrase, the wheels came spinning off the chariot last week in Cardiff but England ought to be able to get back on track in front of their home fans against Italy.
The Italians have improved this year and won’t be a pushover – indeed they have put together two of their better displays against Wales and Ireland in the last two games – but Eddie Jones will have been aware of their improvement and will look to stamp it out.
It would be surprising if they had something as inventive as their tactic of not engaging at the ruck in 2017, a change which had England bamboozled although they still ended up as 36-15 winners in the end.
This time around they do bring the ability to make dangerous strike moves, pouncing off poor exit strategies and kickaways. This was especially evidence against an Irish side struggling with their exit strategies last week, and the fine work of Tito Tebaldi gave them invention and an ability to stretch Ireland a fortnight ago.
They will need to be wary of the wiry scrumhalf, who Murray of the ball to race away and set-up Luca Morisi’s score, and they will also need to keep tabs on Tomaso Allen, who has been increasingly impressive during this Championship. Indeed, one of Conor O’Shea’s successes has been Italy’s attacking talent and he does now have the players to make a real impact. Edoardo Padovani has three tries so far whilst the experience of Jaden Hayward and Michele Campagnaro has given Italy lots more options.
Conor O’Shea can be happily with his encouraging progress but facing England will be totally different task for Italy to test themselves against. Eddie Jones faced some questions about a one dimensional approach after Wales managed to stop England’s kicking game as an attacking weapon, and he has responded here with one of his favorite methods – brute force.
England have avoided the mass changes that others have made against Italy but of the five changes from two weeks ago, the addition of Ben Te’o and Joe Cokanasiga into the backline immediately jump out. The addition of those two with Manu Tuilagi make for 3 100kg runners that Owen Farrell and Ben Young can hit.
Ellis Genge has been put in at loose-head whilst Joe Launchbury comes in for the injured Courtney Lawes and Brad Shields starts ahead of Mark Wilson at blindside, so the message is clear; England will aim to go through Italy with sheer force and then set their runners free.
It has been successful for most of Jones’ tenure and worked against Ireland especially, when they recorded 48 dominant tackles to 8 for the Irish and ended up winning comprehensively, and if they can get enough poession, they should at some point prove themselves too good.
A handicap in the 30’s appears large at face value, given that Italy have beaten that on all three occasions. They were losing by 30 before a sin bin to Ben Toolis saw them score three late tries there and England are capable of going higher than that, but even then lines appear to be set high. Paddy Power offer 5/6 on England winning in a game that has less than 58.5 points and that looks realistic.
3 pts England to win & Under 58.5 points (5/6 Paddy Power)
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nathan Hughes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Henry Slade
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello
Date: Saturday, March 9
Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)