England went back to basics at the start of the Six Nations, using its traditional strength in the forwards and a domination of the set piece to clinch a tight victory in Scotland.
It looks like being the same again against Italy on Sunday.
England coach Eddie Jones is still learning the ropes in terms of northern hemisphere rugby, but the Australian has been in the game long enough to know that Italy’s strength lies up front. Gain at least parity there and the game should be won.
So, Jones has bolstered his pack for the game at Stadio Olimpico, adding more “oomph” – as he called it – by recalling powerful lock Courtney Lawes and prop Mako Vunipola as part of three changes to the team that started at Murrayfield.
“Against Italy, traditionally it’s a game that has a lot of set piece,” Jones said, happy to reveal his game plan.
“We want to tire out their tight five, so we want to play the game through the forwards early and for the second half we want fresh legs to rely on.”
The gnarly Italian pack, led as ever by captain, No. 8 Sergio Parisse, will see that as a direct challenge.
The Azzurri will already be fired up by a sense of injustice at losing its opening match of the competition 23-21 to France in Paris, after Parisse conceded a late penalty that was converted from long range.
Italy played well enough to win that game.
“The ambition that we showed in Paris, the desire to impose our game, is the same that we have always tried to have in these past few years. Sometimes we have managed it, other times no, but the desire has never diminished,” Italy coach Jacques Brunel said Friday.
“We have never beaten England and we won’t start as favorites on Sunday. But our challenge, our aim, has to be to remain close to them in the scoring for 70 minutes. If we manage to do that, anything can happen.”
Seeking a 22nd straight win against the Italians, England is set to unleash a player of whom great things are expected.
Uncapped 21-year-old Maro Itoje – an athletic lock who captained England’s under-20 side to a world title – has been making headlines with his impressive displays for England’s top club, Saracens.
He was described this week by England defence coach Paul Gustard as a once-in-a-generation talent and a player who could be compared to Irish great Paul O’Connell or Martin Johnson.
Itoje was selected on the bench by Jones, who resisted the temptation to play the lock against Scotland.
“Maro is a young kid who has a good head on his shoulders,” Jones said.
“He’s like a Vauxhall Viva now, we want to make him into a BMW. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got potential.”