The Italy head coach has focused his training sessions this week on recreating the intensity the Azzurri showed in their 26-3 defeat to Ireland in Rome last Saturday, but without giving up possession as easy.
Four lineouts lost on their own throw, one scrum lost and 11 penalties didn’t help Italy’s cause against the reigning champions, who enjoyed two-thirds of possession and territory in the second half as they eased to victory with a far from ruthless display.
“We have worked very hard so far this week to keep the same level of intensity in defence and to improve our game by keeping possession more often,” Brunel said.
“We felt frustrated after the Ireland game because, as things stand, we cannot know if we would have been able to put the Irish team under pressure if we had kept possession for longer.
“We managed to maintain possession of the ball too briefly and we wasted a lot of balls, putting our defence under massive pressure.
“Now England await us; a team that likes to play a different game plan compared to Ireland, but it always a tough challenge for us.”
That same courtesy is unlikely to be extended to them again on Saturday against an England side buoyed by their comeback win over Wales, while Italy have also had to contend with injuries to key players in centre Michele Campagnaro and flanker Alessandro Zanni.
Brunel has been forced to rework his backline as well as drafting in centurion forwards Marco Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco to the pack to combat England’s potent forwards, who dominated Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
“The first, and most difficult, thing to do was to assess the team and rethink the first XV for the match against England, after the massive blow of the injuries of Campagnaro and Zanni,” Brunel said.
“Apart from that, we decided to select experienced players like Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco.
Campagnaro’s absence has also caused the Frenchman some headaches over how to align his backs.
After a spot of musical chairs with his three-quarter line, Brunel has opted to leave New Zealand-born outside-half Kelly Haimona at 10, even though Italy looked more dangerous when he moved into the midfield in the second half with Tommaso Allan playing pivot.
“We want to be able to adapt to the opponent and try to match the needs of our team,” he added.
“The same can be said of [Wasps centre] Masi and [Sale Sharks full-back] McLean, who have been moved to where they are used to playing for their Aviva Premiership clubs.
“Haimona was not perfect last Saturday and, maybe, he impressed much when he moved centre at the end of the game, but we need to see the bigger picture and consider his performance within the collective team performance, when we did not keep possession.
“Allan had a great impact on the match when he came in, but we want to keep a continuity with the work we have been doing since last autumn.”
England: Mike Brown (Harlequins); Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby); George Ford (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), David Attwood (Bath Rugby),George Kruis (Saracens), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain), Billy Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Nick Easter (Harlequins), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby).
Italy: Luke McLean (Sale Sharks); Leonardo Sarto (Zebre), Luca Morisi, (Treviso), Andrea Masi (Wasps), Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre); Kelly Haimona (Zebre), Edoardo Gori (Treviso); Alberto de Marchi (Sale Sharks), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester Tigers), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), George Fabio Biagi (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre), Francesco Minto (Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, captain)
Replacements: Andrea Manici (Zebre), Matias Agüero (Zebre), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Joshua Furno (Newcastle Falcons), Samuela Vunisa (Zebre); Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Giulio Bisegni (Zebre).
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