ENGLAND head coach Eddie Jones says he will “experiment” with both the style and make-up of his side against Italy, but insists that is not a sign of under-estimating the struggling Azzurri.
Having defeated Wales 21-16 during Saturday’s epic Six Nations encounter in Cardiff, the national team now have almost a fortnight to build towards their next fixture at Twickenham on Sunday, February 26.
Still on course for historic successive grand slams, fearless England will also break world champions New Zealand’s record of 18 successive Test match wins if they defeat Italy, Scotland and finally, in a likely championship decider, Ireland in Dublin.
For all the thrilling victory over Wales was another notable feat, they left it late again, more so than against France, with Elliot Daly grabbing the crucial try in the 77th minute to deny their hosts a famous success.
Indeed, Jones’s side were out-played for large periods, something he conceded when admitting afterwards they had used up all their “get out of jail free cards”.
Italy, of course, have never beaten the Red Rose in 22 fixtures since first meeting each other in the 1991 World Cup.
They were heavily vanquished 63-10 by Ireland in Rome on Saturday, having lost their opener 33-7 at home to Wales, raising question marks once more about their validity as a Six Nations side.
Jones is certainly keen to freshen up his squad for the forthcoming contest and has ample options with prop Mako Vunipola and winger Anthony Watson both set to return from injuries for that fixture.
Asked if those changes included starting with replacement hooker Jamie George rather than captain Dylan Hartley, as many believe should happen, he said: “You’d love that one.
“Maybe. I’m looking at it all. I want to do something a bit different v Italy.
“I want to play differently against them; experiment a bit in how we play and maybe the team might be different.”
He suggested Daly, the outside centre who played wing on Saturday, could start at full-back and also inferred flanker James Haskell may be ready for his first England start since last June.
There could also be a debut for Alex Lozowski, the 23-year-old Saracens fly-half who started his professional career with Leeds Carnegie having been discovered playing at Leeds University.
Asked if experimenting in any way indicated an expression of confidence they would win regardless, Jones insisted: “No, but I want to keep developing the team. My job is to keep doing that. We’ve got to win against Italy to win the Six Nations. It’s bloody important we beat Italy and we’ll make sure we do.
“One of the things I’d like to do is to develop multiple ways we can play the game so if we have a game where we want to play a certain way then we have done it once and the players understand and can do it again. This is all about building a plan for the World Cup. It will be a bit of fun.”
Jones accepted he is missing the likes of blistering Billy Vunipola, the injured No 8 who he also revealed “might get back for Ireland” ahead of schedule.
“We are short of firepower at the moment, there is no doubt about that – we are missing our two best ball-carriers and it makes it difficult,” he said.
“But what I like about this team, and I really mean it, is the way we find a way to be effective. Everyone pitches in and does a little bit more and we are getting by.
“It is hard for us to blow away teams at the moment because we are lacking a bit of firepower.
“We are not getting that smashing over the gain line and getting that quick ball. We are having to work hard to get yardage, work hard to push the defence back and everyone is doing their bit.”
Saracens loosehead Vunipola, who has not played since injuring a knee in December, has a “big chance” of facing Italy.
On Watson, Jones added: “He ran at 95 per cent on Friday so we are confident he’ll be able to play against Italy, which is great and we will probably use him.
“Mako will play for his club this week and if he gets through that game okay we will bring him into camp for the Italy week.”
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “We matched them on physicality. They were clinical when they had the opportunity in the last three or four minutes. We let ourselves down, we feel.”