Six Nations: England urged to take Italy seriously or pay the price

Josh Beaumont.Josh Beaumont.
Josh Beaumont.
England may never have lost to Italy, but defence coach Paul Gustard knows from bitter experience the perils of complacency in Rome.

After one round of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations, only two teams have a chance of the Grand Slam, including England who have not achieved the feat of a clean sweep since 2003.

Eddie Jones’s side, who beat Scotland 15-9 in Edinburgh last weekend, travel to Rome on Sunday to play the Azzurri, perennial Wooden Spoon contenders.

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But Gustard, in particular, will not be underestimating Italy, despite hazy memories of a defeat during his playing days.

“Unfortunately I was involved in an England A team that lost... the very first England team at any level to lose to Italy,” Gustard said.

“So it does happen. If you focus on too many other things or you look too far ahead or you look towards Ireland or Wales and so on and start dreaming of other things, you’ll trip up fast.

“They’ve got a lot of good players, playing in competitive leagues as well, and they ran a good French team close at the weekend.”

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France are the other side in contention for a Grand Slam after Ireland and Wales drew in Dublin, with England determined to succeed after finishing runners-up in the last four tournaments and the disappointment of their premature World Cup exit last autumn.

Gustard insists the end goal is not in England’s minds.

“You take one eye off the path, you’ve got one eye on the goal, you trip up somewhere on the floor,” added Gustard.

“We just try to keep two eyes focused on the task ahead. It’s a big task.

“Back to back away games, to go across to Rome this weekend, against a team that will be buoyed with confidence in their own performance, travelling to France.

“It’ll be tough for us this weekend. Stay focused.”

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Maro Itoje and Josh Beaumont have been included in a 25-strong England squad for the trip to Italy.

The starting XV is due to be named tomorrow morning and Jones has hinted that there will be changes to his pack due to the conditions expected at the Stadio Olimpico.

Jack Clifford made his debut off the bench in Edinburgh and could be promoted, but selecting the fast Harlequins back row would mean having to drop either James Haskell or Chris Robshaw – both of whom performed well against the Scots.

Itoje has been in outstanding form for Saracens this season and could be in line for a first cap in round two of the Championship at the expense of either Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes or George Kruis.

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Haskell and Robshaw performed well in defence, in particular, and Gustard was satisfied with the way England kept Scotland at bay.

“I was pretty comfortable with where we’re at, for a week-and-a-half’s preparation,” he said.

Italy offer different challenges, with a running scrum-half, a complementary centre pairing and well-balanced back-row which includes the talismanic Sergio Parisse.

Whatever England team is selected, Gustard says his task and theirs remains the same.

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He added: “Whatever the selection ends up being, they’ll all have the same job to do.

“You have some guys that are bigger tacklers, some guys that are a bit more mobile or offer you more opportunity in certain areas.

“But fundamentally they’re asked to do the same thing at the same time.”