Palmer encouraged by England beating Wales while in low gear

THERE is a growing sense in the England camp that Saturday’s fixture against Italy represents an exercise in sidestepping a potential banana skin.

Martin Johnson has spoken at length since England’s opening win in Cardiff of the need to maintain focus and momentum against opponents who, on paper, appear the easiest of the three to visit Twickenham over the coming weeks in fixtures that could shape the team’s grand slam ambitions.

That win at a raucous Millennium Stadium set England on the road to a first Six Nations title for eight years, and the expectation levels on their shoulders have duly been intensified.

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But Italy proved against Ireland in Rome last Saturday that they are no pushovers.

Forceful in the scrum and able to induce Irish errors in the loose, the Six Nations’ traditional wooden-spoon claimants were mightily unlucky not to land a famous victory against Declan Kidney’s visitors.

And lock Tom Palmer has joined the chorus of England players warning against complacency as they look to build on their encouraging start.

“We need to keep building on the Wales win. Never be happy, that’s the aim of the game,” said the long-time Leeds Tyke, who has experience of playing against doughty Italians having progressed with Stade Francais from Carnegie’s European Challenge Cup group at the expense of Crociati.

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“It’s a cliché but it’s important we concentrate on the next game. It’s important we don’t think about France or Scotland when we should be thinking about Italy.

“It was full focus on Wales, now it’s full focus on Italy.

“Friday was the best possible start for us. The task is now to review what happened in Cardiff and ensure our preparation is spot on for Italy.

“They have a strong pack of forwards and it’s going to be a big job up front this week.”

Palmer’s international renaissance has coincided with England’s revival since last summer.

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The rangy lock – who waited five years between his first and second caps before another enforced absence between November 2008 and February 2010 – was dominant in the lineout at the Millennium Stadium.

But in the constant pursuit of perfection that prevails in Johnson’s team, the one throw his lineout unit missed late on, which nearly allowed Wales back into the game, is something he will look to eradicate against the Azzuri.

Palmer, 31, who is expected to be put in line for his 22nd appearance for England when Johnson names his team today, said: “We actually lost a key lineout near the end which was disappointing, but when they had the ball down their end we closed it out, and that was encouraging.

“What was pleasing about Cardiff was that we got a win without putting in our best performance.

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“We need to work on getting the ball wider, perhaps we were a little bit predictable against Wales. A couple of times we were under the posts and got nothing.

“We feel we’re progressing but we can be harsh on ourselves when we have to be. We are striving to get better and better.”

Saturday’s fixture throws up an intriguing contest between two club team-mates in the scrum.

Dan Cole is already England’s leading tight-head prop and he has the chance against Italy to prove he should also be top of Leicester’s pecking order.

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The 23-year-old finds that path blocked by cult hero Martin Castrogiovanni, the Italian who recently rejected a lucrative move to France to remain a Tiger.

Cole has already sat down with England’s scrum coach Graham Rowntree and the rest of the front row and briefed them on what they can expect from Castrogiovanni.

“They know each other inside out,” said Rowntree. “They are both proactive guys who want to push. Dan is a real student of the game.

“I have always been impressed, even from an early age, how much he knows about the game. He has given us a few tips on Castro.”

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The Italians pose a different scrum challenge to almost any other team, certainly in the Six Nations, and England need to be ready for it.

Cole said: “It is their mentality. Against Ireland they were intent on pushing the Irish for a penalty or trying to break their will as a pack.

“They are happy to get the ball in and have a long, slow scrummage and wait for you to crack and push you off the ball.”

Meanwhile, James Hook has been named as Wales’ starting fly-half against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.


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Rob Andrew has applied for the newly-created role of operations director at the Rugby Football Union after his current position was scrapped.

Andrew has been the RFU’s director of elite rugby since 2006 but that role will no longer exist under a new management structure being implemented by chief executive John Steele.

The elite rugby department is being merged with the community arm of the RFU to form a single streamlined department divided into three areas – high performance, development and operations.

Andrew’s decision to apply for the operations role indicates his desire to play a key role in the build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.