Not so long ago, England’s loss to Italy in Six Nations was fraught with danger.
Three consecutive trips to Rome between 2008-12 saw England lose by less than five points. This was suggested to be a sign that the Azzurri had become more comfortable with life at the top table of European rugby.
It feels like it was yesterday.
When asked about his thoughts on playing Italy, Joe Marler, England prop, said, “From personal experience it’s almost like you’re damned If you do and damned If you don’t.”
Fans and writers especially like to say, “If you place 50 points on Italy, you should.” You should have placed 50 points on them if you win by less than five points. That’s a difficult one to maneuver.
It is not surprising that these expectations are high for annual matches. It should be concerning that there are expectations around an annual match — or mismatch? England has won 28 consecutive games against Italy since 1991. This is before their meeting in Rome on Sunday.
In their nine previous meetings, Italy has not been within 21 points of England.
There is a debate over whether the Six Nations guarantees the Italians a place, particularly considering their 33-match losing streak since February 2015.
Italy’s recently hired coach, New Zealander Kieran Crowley, even said he’d “welcome” promotion-relegation. However, he did make a very important point.
Crowley stated, “I don’t believe it will get there because other teams might experience a bad year — Scotland, Wales, or a France or England, Ireland.” “They could have one bad year, and then suddenly they’re down.
“It’s always been debated whether Italy should be included, but that’s not what we are focusing on. We hope that we can put an end to all of this talk with our performances over the next few Six Nations campaigns.”
It was no surprise that the Azzurri lost the Six Nations opener to France, 37-10. However, they were close in the first half which ended with France leading 18-10.
Italy’s problem is that the team lacks the depth and strength to perform an 80-minute performance. Stadio Olimpico will be highlighting the differences between the teams’ reserves.
Although Italy’s loss was anticipated, England’s defeat to Scotland 20-17 was not widely expected.
This is the third consecutive year England has lost in the opening round of the tournament. Eddie Jones, the coach, has responded by changing the team and not changing the lineup. Only Ollie Chessum, a Leicester lock, was allowed to enter the matchday 23 in support of Lewis Ludlam, an injured flanker.
Six reserves are available against Scotland, including No. 1 hooker Jamie George. 8 Alex Dombrandt, scrumhalf Harry Randall. Jones called them “finishers” and they collapsed under pressure against Scotland. They had a lead of 17-10 with 15 minutes left. They are starters this week, and the coach has given them the task of “lighting up Rome”.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler were dropped to the bench, which could see Ben Youngs match Jason Leonard’s record of 114 England caps.
Italy had to release Tommaso Menoncello, a winger who was injured in a match against France. He, at 19, eclipsed Stuart Hogg for the title of youngest Six Nations try-scorer. He is replaced by Federico Mori of Bordeaux, who has been injured since November’s loss to New Zealand.
Braam Steyn, Sebastian Negri’s flanker, is also back, as well as Pietro Ceccarelli (Brive tighthead), who was awarded his 18th cap, but first as a starter.
Coach Crowley stated, “With the right attitude & greater precision, we have the potential to continue our path of growth.”
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Federico Mori, Juan Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Toa Halafihi, Michele Lamaro (captain), Braam Steyn, Federico Ruzza, Niccolo Cannone, Pietro Ceccarelli, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Danilo Fischetti. Reserves: Epalahame Faiva, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, David Sisi, Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Leonardo Marin.
England: Freddie Steward. Max Malins. Joe Marchant. Henry Slade. Jack Nowell. Harry Randall. Alex Dombrandt. Tom Curry (captain), Maro Isiekwe. Charlie Ewels. Will Stuart. Ellis Genge. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly.