| 10.2°C Belfast

England v Italy - Talking Points


Dylan Hartley's England place has come under renewed scrutiny

Dylan Hartley's England place has come under renewed scrutiny

Dylan Hartley's England place has come under renewed scrutiny

England will be seeking a 17th straight victory when they resume their RBS 6 Nations campaign against Italy at Twickenham on Sunday.

Here, Press Association Sport examines five talking points heading into the match.


Italy's presence in the Six Nations is coming under scrutiny like never before. Georgia are placed higher in the world rankings and the clamour for a route into the championship to be made available to them is growing. It was hoped that, by dining at Europe's top table, Italy's standards would raise, but instead they appear to be in annual decline. Last autumn's win over South Africa offered cause for optimism, but that result was delivered against the worst Springboks team in memory.


Into the Azzurri crisis has stepped Conor O'Shea and, after heavy defeats to Wales and Ireland, even one of the sport's greatest optimists must be fearful of the size of the task ahead. The Irishman has stressed the need to overhaul Italian rugby but is hamstrung by the lack of quality players available and the collapse in confidence that comes with continual defeat, both at Test and club level.


When Dylan Hartley was replaced after 46 minutes against Wales, his place in the team came under renewed scrutiny. Jamie George - emphatically England's form hooker - was outstanding when he reinforced England's assault at the Principality Stadium and it is Hartley's leadership alone that preserves his place in the team. Head coach Eddie Jones has declared that Hartley is still the first name on the team-sheet and will remain so for the foreseeable future, whatever his critics may say.


For only the third time in his England reign, Jones has opted for a muscular presence in the centres by naming Ben Te'o in place of Jonathan Joseph. Te'o's previous five appearances have all come off the bench but, after his telling late contributions against France and Wales, Jones wants to see what impact he can make as a starter. Joseph has been quiet as an attacking force in this Six Nations and Te'o offers a more direct route over the gain-line.


Once Hartley is eventually relieved of the captaincy, Owen Farrell will fill the leadership void - a role he already performs once the Northampton front row has left the field. Farrell wins his 50th cap on Sunday and the 25-year-old has become the heartbeat of Jones' England, his defence, kicking and competitive spirit now matched by a more rounded set of playmaking skills.