On paper, this should be the easiest match of the tournament for England and a chance to give some key players a rest heading into the title-clinching match happening a week later, but Italy are hoping they can somehow make something happen in a stadium they’ve never seen much success in.
It’s been 13 years minus a week since the first time Italy played England in the Six Nations Championship, and they’re still looking for their first win. Prior to that, the teams met a few times in the World Cup or some other excuse for a match between them, always resulting in an England win. It’s been 18 matches, with an average margin of 27.6 points, with the Twickenham losses continuing to be extremely bruising, like the 59-13 win for England two years ago.
Is this a different Italy side? They did open the championship with a stunning win over France, but their achievements remain limited to Rome, and not outside of it. Still, the return of Sergio Parisse from suspension will have more than just a slight, positive effect on the team that looked lost without their number 8 captain.
Parisse isn’t the only change in the lineup for Jacques Brunel; Roberto Barbieri starts at blindside instead of Alessandro Zanni; Quentin Geldenhuys and Joshua Furno take over the second row pairing, dropping Antonio Pavanello and Francesco Minto. Alberto de Marchi takes over at #1 for Andrea Lo Cicero, and that’s not all: Luciano Orquera get the fly-half position again, while Gonzalo Garcia comes into the midfield, shifting Gonzalo Canale to the outside.
For England, it’s about staying healthy and simply winning to continue their perfect start, hoping it doesn’t get, and it shouldn’t get, complicated. Lancaster is planning a few changes, hoping that his replacement don’t make a mess of things six days before the huge game in Cardiff, which will be for the championship.
Mako Vunipola gets his first ever start at prop; Tom Youngs returns at hooker instead of Dylan Hartley; Toby Flood will start at fly-half while Owen Farrell remains out of the squad, still recovering from an injury he suffered against France; Danny Care gets the start at scrum-half while ames Haskell preferred at blindside flanker instead of Courtney Lawes. An interesting addition to the bench will be Tom Croft, returning to England nearly a year after a neck injury that almost left him paralyzed.
Prediction – Despite all of the changes, this England side is too good, especially at home, for anyone in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment. Anything but a convincing win will be considered a disappointment.