Six Nations 2021: England v Italy – Eddie Jones' side aim to bounce back

England training
England are aiming to become the first team to defend the Six Nations since their own success in 2017
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 13 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra; live text commentary and post-match video highlights on the BBC Sport website and app.

Suggestions England’s defeat by Scotland might have prompted larger-scale changes for Saturday’s match against Italy are “desperate talk”, says defence coach John Mitchell.

Scotland inflicted a first home defeat on England in 38 years last weekend.

“Why wouldn’t you keep faith in people who have been outstanding and consistent?” Mitchell told BBC Sport.

“It’s not about repaying faith or anything like that, that is desperate talk as far as I am concerned.”

Six Nations champions England have made five changes to their starting XV to face Italy with props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola back from suspension and injury respectively and Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie preferred to Jamie George in an all-new front row.

Courtney Lawes replaces Mark Wilson in the back row while George Ford comes in at fly-half, with Owen Farrell shifting to centre and Ollie Lawrence dropping out of the matchday squad.

“When you are a competitor and a team that sets high standards then you have the opportunity to respond,” said Mitchell.

England have much to respond to.

Scotland’s win at Twickenham was fully deserved with the visitors trumping England in all departments.

Scotland had 62% of possession and 58% of territory, racking up more metres with ball in hand (340 to 219), fewer missed tackles (11 to 29) and a far lower penalty count (six to 15). They were also the only side to score a try.

Defeat against Italy, an opponent England have beaten in all 21 Six Nations meetings with 31 points the average margin at Twickenham, is unthinkable.

But what will be the key areas in which Mitchell and the rest of the England coaching set-up want to see improvement?

The midfield jigsaw

Ollie Lawrence
Lawrence struggled to get himself involved in the Calcutta Cup defeat by Scotland

Lawrence’s statistics were particularly stark in the defeat by Scotland.

The 21-year-old, making only his fourth appearance, made only one carry in his 69 minutes on the pitch.

Flanker Tom Curry does not believe Lawrence has been unduly affected by his demotion.

“Ollie is a great bloke,” he told BBC Sport. “From the outside I don’t know what everyone is saying, but he has cracked on and trained really hard.”

In his absence, and that of the injured Manu Tuilagi, England have reverted to the 10-12-13 combination of Ford, Farrell and Henry Slade.

The trio were England’s go-to option in their Autumn Nations Cup success.

But, with head coach Eddie Jones setting his team the target of evolving their style this year, they will want to show more punch and penetration than they managed last year.

LCD found in system

Luke Cowan-Dickie
Cowan-Dickie’s last England start was against the United States at the Rugby World Cup in September 2019

Cowan-Dickie, a key part of Exeter Chiefs’ all-conquering forward pack, has won 27 England caps, but only three as a starter.

George, the man he replaces in the XV, knows the feeling of being a perennial replacement.

He was behind former captain Dylan Hartley in his early international career. He even started a Test for the British and Irish Lions before he did for England.

Cowan-Dickie has scored seven tries in his last 16 England appearances and could add an abrasive edge after Scotland’s supremacy up front last weekend.

Keep the discipline, keep the faith

Full-back Elliot Daly is clear about what did for England against Scotland.

“I think the ill-discipline killed us a little bit, there is a fine line between being on the edge and being over the edge,” he said.

England landed the wrong side of the line too often last weekend, giving away 10 penalties inside the first half hour.

Scotland’s Mike Adamson, 36, will be in charge against Italy, refereeing his first Six Nations game.

After England recovered from losing to France in their opening match of the 2020 tournament to lift the trophy, Daly knows all is not lost.

“These competitions are not won on the first weekend,” he said. “We know we can turn it around and this is a good opportunity to really fly into it.”

Italy’s young guns in line of fire

Italy have lost 28 Six Nations matches in succession, a run that stretches back to a win over Scotland in 2015.

The visitors will be attempting to overcome a chasm in experience as well as the weight of history, with a starting XV with 224 caps compared to England’s 810.

“The mountain in front of us is high, very high, but there is a road that goes up there and we will be on that road,” head coach Franco Smith said.

“We must also not be worried about getting the monkey off our back, looking to get one win in the Championship at any cost.

“If that is all we work towards then it will be another five or six years before the next victory. It’s time for new faces, new icons in Italian rugby.”

England’s last six Six Nations results against Italy

31 October 2020, Stadio Olimpico – Italy 5-34 England

9 March 2019, Twickenham – England 57-14 Italy

4 February 2018, Stadio Olimpico – Italy 15-46 England

26 February 2017, Twickenham – England 36-15 Italy

14 February 2016, Stadio Olimpico – Italy 9-40 England

14 February 2015, Twickenham – England 47-17 Italy


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