Italy v England: The key battlegrounds – Last Word on Rugby

Italy v England preview – Both sides are coming off a loss, the players will be eager to do whatever they can to be on the other end of the scoreline come Sunday teatime. Here we look at the areas of the match that will be crucial to making that happen.

Key matchup of Italy v England: Two young flyhalves

A week after his Six Nations debut against one of the game’s best-attacking talents, Marcus Smith will face another strong test in Italy’s Paolo Garbisi. The Italian is younger than Smith but with 14 caps to his name, is more experienced in the international arena. Both players like to bring attacking flair that can unlock even the tightest of defences. We have already seen in this tournament that they can create magic.

However, the deciding factor here may prove to be which 10 can read the flow of the game best and know when to kick to marshal their team around the field effectively. Italy showed a lack of ability to gain territory against the French with only 35%. England had the lion’s share in their game with 62% against the Scots, largely thanks to England’s halfback pairing. This could prove critical on the weekend where another week together means defences will be more organised and in a greater position to punish errors in the opposition’s half.

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Garbisi plays with some of the top talents in European rugby at Montpellier who are currently sitting second in the Top 14 and boast a squad of World Cup winners including Cobus Reinach and Handre Pollard. As such the pressure will be on him to drive standards in training and on the pitch. He can inspire those Italians who perhaps play at weaker clubs, to push to reach that higher level. His experience of those French and European games will be vital for Italy having the hope of beating the English for the first time.

Questions must be asked though about Eddie’s trust in his young flyhalf after he removed him from the action with the game in the balance. Could the early shower for Smith dent his confidence especially so early in his international career? Or will such a move by Jones prove genius as Smith orchestrates the game plan perfectly on Sunday? Only time will tell but what we do know is the battle between these two young talents will go a long way to deciding the game.

The set-piece

Both teams had a 100% success rate at scrums last week and near-perfect lineouts too; so this will be an area both teams will be targeting to try and gain the upper hand. England has the upper hand when it comes to experience. Last week’s starting front row had over 100 caps between them compared to an Italian front row that didn’t even total 50, add in Joe Marler on the bench and England will believe they have the nous to gain an edge here.

Also, while Italy saw relative success on their ball, they were marched backwards in several French scrums. Cockrill and Proudfoot will be drilling this into their players as England know a loss effectively ends their title aspirations.

The Italian pack will not be a walkover for England though, especially in Rome. We have seen the impact a crowd can have on a game and the Italians are a proud nation who will not roll over easily. They have a coach now who is used to getting the underdog to overperform in Kieran Crowley and the Italians did see the referee’s whistle go their way on occasion as well.

Furthermore, Italy is now showing they can go the full 80 minutes in the set piece. In previous years when the likes of Castrogiovanni have left the field, Italy has struggled. Now though they can stay with teams for the full match as the fitness of players improves along with the depth of their playing squad. Even with last year’s starting tighthead, Marco Riccioni, out injured, Italy is still able to call on some talented players. Zilocchi who helped Italy to their best-ever finish at an Under 20s World Championship in 2017 is a great example.

Discipline – Italy v England

Discipline will be one of the deciding factors for Sunday’s game. A string of penalties conceded could see the opposition flyhalf continue to knock over penalties and before you know it the game is out of sight. Both teams will be pleased with only conceding 10 penalties last weekend. The yellow card though to Luke Cowan-Dickie may take the shine off somewhat for England.

However, both teams will need to tighten up their work at the breakdown. Referees are being much sharper on the tackler rolling away allowing a fair contest for the ball. Other areas that referees are tightening up on include entering a ruck. This means that players must enter from behind the ball, and they must do so whilst supporting their body weight. Again, this is to ensure a fair contest and player welfare. Supporting players of each team need to make sure they arrive quickly to the breakdown to ensure possession. Moreover, arriving quickly means a faster ball, the ability to play against a less organised defence and more attacking chances.

The Italy v England match will take place at 3:00 p.m. GMT. The game will be shown in England on ITV. The match will happen on Sunday, February. 13 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy.


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