Six Nations Championship

England wary of underestimating Italy threat in battle for Six Nations crown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 5:51pm

England have never lost any of their 18 tests against Italy, and a heavy victory over the Azzurri at Twickenham tomorrow could all but assure Stuart Lancaster's grand-slam chasers of the title.

Logic suggests England, who were to name their team late yesterday, ought to win well and move closer to a first grand slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003. However, logic would not have put pre-tournament favourites France at the bottom of the table and facing the prospect of their first whitewash in more than 50 years.

Mike Brown, set to retain his place on the left wing this weekend, insisted there was no danger of England getting ahead of themselves against an Italy side who blew the championship wide open by beating France in the first round.

"We are just focused on winning the game and how we are going to do that. Scoring a lot of points doesn't matter," Brown said. "It is going to be a tough test.

"If we take our eye off the ball we will be turned over. We saw what they did to France."

England coach Stuart Lancaster has already hinted he will pick a changed team to face the Azzurri, ahead of next week's finale against Wales in Cardiff. One alteration is set to be enforced, with the experienced Toby Flood likely to replace the injured Owen Farrell at flyhalf.

Meanwhile, prop forward Mako Vunipola is in line for a first test start, with scrumhalf Danny Care, back-row James Haskell and hooker Tom Youngs all pushing for recalls as well.

There is also a possibility forward Tom Croft could make an international return off the bench following a career-threatening neck injury.

Italy, also due to unveil their line-up late yesterday, received welcome news on Wednesday when influential captain Sergio Parisse, one of the world's leading back-row forwards, was cleared to face England.