Wednesday 13 December 2017

Youngs: Each England game a dress rehearsal for World Cup

Ben Youngs passes the ball during the England training session
Ben Youngs passes the ball during the England training session

Mick Cleary

From the Millennium fear factor to the Twickenham favourite factor, England intend to use today's game against Italy as an audition for the escalating pressures they will face over the coming months as they build towards the World Cup.

They are all too aware that they are expected to beat Italy handsomely. England had to contend with so much last week - the vaunted reputations in opposition, the tribal hostility, the pre-match antics in the tunnel and their own unimpressive record in Cardiff - yet endured.

That ledger has been flipped, and England have to deal with the sort of scrutiny that will accompany their every move, their every selection, their every comment once that global tournament kicks off.

It might be stretching the case to suggest that England need to blow the doors off in this Italian job but the Twickenham crowd will certainly expect some fireworks.

"Italy is a dress rehearsal for a home World Cup," said scrum-half Ben Youngs. "Every game is a dress rehearsal for a World Cup. Everyone wants to put their hand up and stake a claim. And, as a team, we have got to push on from where we are at."

It is not easy to gauge where England are at. Once again, the talk has to be of promise rather than substance.

Of course, victory in Cardiff was significant. But we will not know if it was a landmark moment, a turning point in the fortunes of this team, until this tournament is played out.

England have been here before, with championship scalps on their belt, only to come up short. Three times they have finished runners-up in the Six Nations under Stuart Lancaster, on the past two occasions only on points difference to Ireland (2014) and Wales the year before that.

That is the context for today's game. England struggled against Italy at home in 2013, prevailing only 18-11. That slender margin was to prove costly.

It would be disrespectful for England to focus on boosting their points difference at this stage, but a win by a scuffled few points, will deflate the Millennium euphoria. Performance is what matters today, and nothing less than top-end performance at that.

England thrived at Twickenham last season, beating Wales and Ireland, to an exultant backdrop. The faithful expect more of the same to launch a World Cup year in style. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England - M Brown, A Watson, J Joseph, L Burrell, J May, G Ford, B Youngs, J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, D Attwood, G Kruis, J Haskell, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola. Reps: T Youngs, M Vunipola, K Brookes, N Easter, T Croft, R Wigglesworth, D Cipriani, B Twelvetrees.

Italy - L McLean, L Sarto, L Morisi, A Masi, G Venditti, K Haimona, E Gori; A De Marchi, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, G Biagi, M Bortolami, M Bergamasco, F Minto, Sergio Parisse. Reps: A Manici, M Aguero, D Chistolini, J Furno, S Vunisa, G Palazzani, T Allan, G Bisegni.

REF - J Lacey (IRFU)

England v Italy,

Live RTE2 and BBC1, 2.30

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