Deep inside an empty Twickenham, following England’s close loss to Scotland last Saturday, new head coach Steve Borthwick made a daring claim.
According to the former Leicester manager, Eddie Jones’ club “weren’t good at anything.”
Was it a ruse to highlight how big his mission was? Or was it a means of implying that changes had already been made despite failing to reclaim the Calcutta Cup?
Borthwick may have just been being honest, but the manager of England now understands that he needs victories rather than blunt remarks.
England’s undefeated record against Italy at Twickenham implies there is a good possibility he will succeed in getting his first victory under his leadership, but this young Azzurri team poses a different threat than those they have previously faced.
To face Italy, England chooses Farrell over Smith at fly-half.
Rugby Union Daily: Scotland’s strength and Ireland’s unstoppable charm
Young Italian revolution leader prepared to take on England
The fly-half position was the major selection concern, and Borthwick chose Owen Farrell over Marcus Smith because of his tried-and-true pragmatism rather than his explosive flair.
After being chosen captain by Borthwick upon his arrival, Farrell was possibly less likely to be benched, and the Saracens player will be in charge of releasing a fresh-faced midfield.
He has a strong ball carrier in Ollie Lawrence who will test the gainline at inside center, and at 13, Henry Slade is a graceful runner and distributor.
In their attempt to move the ball fast in attack against Scotland, England kept the pregame pledge they made to themselves. But as a crash runner, Joe Marchant, who is completely dropped from the matchday lineup, was unable to punch enough openings in the blue line.
Marchant is outweighed by Lawrence by 11 kg, so Borthwick will be hoping for a bigger impact. Slade’s abilities will be utilized in attacking the space and feeding the back three after the line has been broken.
The most intriguing information from the team announcement, though, concerned a player who will start on the bench.
British Irish wing After overcoming a foot issue, Henry Arundell has been included among the substitutes and will be “deployed” from there, according to England attack coach Nick Evans.
The former New Zealand fly-half remarked, “Henry’s amazing, very special, and I’ve loved seeing him train.
He responds instinctively. It’s all about getting him into space and setting up as many one-on-ones for him as possible when he has the chance to come in. He puts a lot of effort into one on one matches. It’s one of his superpowers.
Young Azzurri won’t display any fear.
Last weekend, Duhan van der Merwe ruined Borthwick’s welcome celebration with two spectacular attempts.
Italy may not have anyone with the same physical characteristics in their arsenal, but they do have one of Europe’s most lethal finishers in Ange Capuozzo.
The 23-year-old full-back, who broke into the Test scene from relative anonymity in the last weekend of last year’s championship, has scored six tries in eight international outings.
Capuozzo’s aggressiveness in attack is a hallmark of the 26-year-old average age of the Azzurri team.
Before Australia was defeated for the first time last autumn, a 36-game losing streak in the competition came to an end with a victory against Wales on the final day of 2022.
On the first day, they came close to defeating defending champions France before Matthieu Jalibert scored with a few seconds left.
Despite the fact that Italy has never defeated England, head coach Kieran Crowley wants his team to play freely and try to expose an English defense that allowed four tries last weekend.
The Welsh-born scrum-half for Italy, Stephen Varney, age 21, told BBC Sport: “With Kieran coming in, he has brought a fresh playing style which suits the guys we have.
We’ve had a great year, and maybe the Six Nations will bring us more victories.
“As you saw against France, we want to play from everywhere.
We came close to defeating France, and we are ready to take on England.