Saturday 24 March 2018

Lewis Moody calls for dogged display from England against Italy

Mick Cleary

As Riki Flutey returned to action on Tuesday with a view to reclaiming the midfield spot against Italy at the Stadio Flaminio on Sunday, England were forced to train without captain Steve Borthwick who has a stomach virus.

Borthwick, who had his best game in an England shirt in the 30-17 win over Wales last weekend, is expected to be fit and able to travel to Rome on Thursday. Nine players have been released back to their clubs as England look set to revert to the 22 originally selected to face Wales before injury and illness intervened.

There is no place for either Leicester centre, Dan Hipkiss, who replaced Toby Flood for the final minutes of Saturday’s victory, or for the Bath’s former New Zealand rugby league international centre, Shontayne Hape, who had been summoned to the replacements bench when Flutey went down with a dead leg only to fall victim himself to a virus.

Those returning to their clubs along with Hipkiss and Hape to play in this weekend’s Guinness Premiership are: wings Chris Ashton and Matt Banahan, scrum-half, Ben Youngs and forwards, Lee Mears, Courtney Lawes, Jordan Crane and Dan Ward-Smith.

Ahead of Wednesday’s team announcement, England were also weighing up the prospects of Leicester prop, Dan Cole, who came on for David Wilson against Wales after the Bath prop had taken a pummelling on his neck and shoulder. Harlequins flanker, Chris Robshaw, has also been retained in the mix.

One of England’s stand-out players in recent months, Leicester back-row forward, Lewis Moody has warned his colleagues to expect a rough ride at the Stadio Flaminio even though Italy have yet to beat England in 15 attempts.

“It will take every bit of dog, heart, enthusiasm and skill to beat them,” said Moody. “Italy are right up there with the best when it comes to physicality. It’s what their game is all about - strong men making a real nuisance of themselves. They pride themselves on making life difficult for you.

"At home, they have the ability to up their game by 50 per cent. You’ve got to put your own stamp on proceedings and try to dominate them up-front. It’s up to senior players such as myself to explain to those who’ve never played in Italy before just what style of game will be coming their way. Long gone are the days when you’d put 50 or 60 points on Italy.”

England have done just that precisely five times. Two years ago in Rome, however, they were grateful to escape with a 23-19 win in Borthwick’s first game as captain.

England had lost to Wales in 2008 after allowing a substantial lead to slip away. This time they travel with fewer injuries to trouble them and in much better heart.

“Beating Wales last Saturday was a real test of our character,” said Moody. “We could have put the nail in the coffin at 20-3 but we didn’t. It became make-or-break. Perhaps it being so close became a good thing for us. And when you start with a win, it makes improvements that much easier. Having got that game out of the way was huge for us.”

England will not tinker with their team selection for the sake of it. Full-back Delon Armitage had his poorest showing for England since making his debut in Johnson’s first match in charge against the Pacific Islands in November 2008.

The London Irish player was England’s outstanding performer across the next 10 games only to miss the autumn series with a dislocated shoulder. He has only had a handful of outings since coming back and looked unsure of himself; jittery under the high ball and fallible in his handling.

“All of us in the back three felt frustrated on Saturday,” said wing Mark Cueto, who has hit a barren run of form after scoring nine tries in his first nine games for England. “ The opportunities are not quite there at the moment. Yet so many other aspects of my game are as good as they’ve ever been: my work-rate, my defence, my catching as well as my kicking game. But you’re there to score tries. There’s an element of rustiness in all of us. We’ll be much the better for the game against Wales.”

Italy, who lost, 29-11, to Ireland at Croke Park name their side on Friday. No matter the fierce reception awaiting at the Stadio Flaminio, England would expect to win.

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