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Preview: England v Italy

Preview: England v Italy

England’s final dress rehearsal before their World Cup campaign begins will see Eddie Jones adopt a ‘mix and match’ selection strategy to help prepare his team for any situation during the tournament.

England’s final dress rehearsal before their World Cup campaign begins will see Eddie Jones adopt a ‘mix and match’ selection strategy to help prepare his team for any situation during the tournament.

Harlequins centre Joe Marchant is set to start although not included in Jones’ squad for Japan, with Piers Francis partnering him in midfield and Ruaridh McConnochie making his long-awaited debut on the wing.

England’s head coach hopes such a policy will improve his team’s ability to adapt during the competition, which kicks off for his side against Tonga on September 22.

Billy Vunipola will make his fourth consecutive start at No.8, while captain Owen Farrell plays at fly-half for the first time during the warm-ups – Anthony Watson starts at full-back.

Jones’ team have enjoyed a successful warm-up campaign so far, toppling Ireland 57-15 at Twickenham last weekend and Wales 33-19 two weeks earlier.

And despite their 13-6 defeat in Cardiff in their second warm-up fixture, the Red Rose will travel to Japan buoyed by their positive performances and full of confidence.

For Italy, Conor O’Shea has similarly rotated his side, making 11 changes from the team that lost 47-19 to France in Paris last weekend.

Full-back Jayden Hayward will link up with Mattia Bellini and Edoardo Padovani in the back three, while Callum Braley makes his first Test start at scrum-half alongside Carlo Canna at No.10.

England v Italy, St James’ Park, Newcastle, Friday 6 September, 19:45

WHAT THEY SAID

England head coach Eddie Jones: “We are delighted to be playing against Italy, one of our traditional Six Nations rivals and the game for us is another important step to develop our game fitness and game strategy.

“We have gone for a mix and match selection strategy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation.

“We have had a solid training week in Treviso with hot conditions so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against Italy on Friday night. Then we hop on the plane and are ready to go to Japan.

“We are excited to be playing in Newcastle. We are playing at an iconic football ground and we know the area is an important one for rugby in the northern part of England. We are looking forward to seeing and playing in front of the fans.”

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea: “We will face one of the strongest teams in the world in a match that represents a new step in our preparation towards the World Cup.

“We will have a new opportunity to assess the players’ level of fitness in order to figure out later how to continue the path towards the first World Cup game against Namibia.

KEY BATTLE – THE MIDFIELD

With Jones’ thoughtful selection strategy seeing the inclusion of Marchant at No.13, England’s midfield will inevitably be an area of enhanced scrutiny.

Marchant and Francis are set to feature in the centres in a new and innovative partnership, coming up against Italy’s similarly experimental duo of Tommaso Benvenuti and Giulio Bisegni.

With two new warm-up combinations also featuring at scrum-half and No.10, all eyes will be on both sides’ backs in their final opportunity to make an impression before the World Cup begins.

GUINNESS SIX NATIONS – STATS POWERED BY AWS

  • Despite England’s 57-14 victory over Italy in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, Conor O’Shea’s side enjoyed 62% of possession at Twickenham.
  • England beat narrowly more defenders in attacking positions than the visitors in that game, getting past 24 players compared to Italy’s 23.
  • Italy’s Tommaso Allan scored the third highest points total during the 2019 Championship with 34, while England captain Farrell topped the table with 59.

MATCH NOTES:

  • Harlequins’ centre Joe Marchant will start at No.13 alongside Piers Francis despite not being included in Eddie Jones’ 31-man squad, his third cap for England. Owen Farrell starts at No.10 for the first time during England’s warm-up campaign after earning minutes previously at centre.
  • Tommaso Benvenuti is Italy’s most-capped player in the side with 58 appearances, while Dan Cole is England’s most experienced with 88.
  • Italy have never beaten England in a Test match, with the Red Rose winning all 25 of the games played and scoring 1021 points compared to their opponents’ 319.

England: 15. Anthony Watson, 14. Ruaridh McConnochie, 13. Joe Marchant, 12. Piers Francis, 11. Jonny May, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Ben Youngs, 1. Joe Marler, 2. Jamie George, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Courtney Lawes, 6. Tom Curry, 7. Mark Wilson, 8. Billy Vunipola

Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Ellis Genge, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Charlie Ewels, 20. Matt Kvesic, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. George Ford, 23. Joe Cokanasiga

Italy: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Mattia Bellini, 13. Giulio Bisegni, 12. Tommaso Benvenuti, 11. Edoardo Padovani, 10. Carlo Canna, 9. Callum Braley, 1. Nicola Quaglio, 2. Oliviero Fabiani, 3. Simone Ferrari, 4. David Sisi, 5. Dean Budd (c), 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Abraham Steyn, 8. Jimmy Tuivaiti

Replacements: 16. Federico Zani, 17. Andrea Lovotti, 18. Marco Riccioni, 19. Federico Ruzza, 20. Alessandro Zanni, 21. Maxime Mbanda, 22. Guglielmo Palazzani, 23. Tommaso Allan