Six Nations 2012: England expected to beat experienced Italy
England's scrum will play a crucial role when Stuart Lancaster's side take on Italy in Rome on Saturday, writes Niall Kelly
Italy will hope to cause an upset against a new-look England side in front of a sell-out 74,000 capacity Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.
But history would indicate the Italians’ afternoon will end in the disappontment, as the Azzurri have failed to beat England since they joined the Six Nations.
Jacques Brunel’s outfit impressed against France last weekend despite their 30-12 loss – and they will be brimming with confidence.
England approach the game after a laboured opening win against Scotland, and Stuart Lancaster’s side will be aiming for a more impressive display in the Italian capital.
Their youthful team will be hoping to produce an expansive, fluid performance – but it could be reduced to a forward battle with the Italian pack.
If England can dominate the forward play early, their backs will thrive. However, England prop Alex Corbisiero will have his work cut out in the front-row against Italian powerhouse Martin Castrogiovanni.
The Italian scrummaging expert will target Corbisiero’s inexperience early on and put the England pack on the back-foot, and Northampton number eight Phil Dowson will also need to step-up against the Azzurri skipper, Sergio Parisse.
The veteran Stade Francais back-rower, like Castrogiovanni, will hope to expose Dowson’s weaknesses and lack of international experience.
Expect a huge battle in the scrum in the opening period and Italy second-row Marco Bortolami, set to earn his 90th cap against England, will be the home side’s sole aerial threat to the visitor’s lineout.
With a good forward platform, Charlie Hodgson will be given licence to command the England backs with ease, while Owen Farrell, son of England backs coach Andy, impressed on his first appearance for his country and will be hoping for a similar performance in Rome.
Hodgson will look to expose the space behind the Italian defence and the Saracens fly-half will be instructed to kick for territory, while Farrell will play his part in tactical kicking.
The 20-year-old scored a crucial penalty against Scotland last weekend, and the Saracens centre showed the composure of a veteran goal kicker in hostile conditions at Murrayfield.
But Farrell will have to deal with Italian centre Gonzalo Canale – the Clermont centre has a very direct approach and will test England’s youthful centre partnership.
Chris Ashton boasts an impressive record against Italy, the Northampton winger bagged four tries in their last encounter, but he will do well to emulate that feat on Saturday.
It won’t be an exhibition of sexy rugby, but England’s scrum, which stood up superbly to the Scotland challenge, should excel again in Rome.
If the Six Nations champions can play hard-hitting, composed and basic rugby against Italy, then they will leave Rome with a win.
But expect a slugfest, with Italy trying to frustrate England at every opportunity.