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Italy v England Talking Points

England arrive in Rome for the second round of the RBS 6 Nations as one of only two teams still capable of winning the Grand Slam.

Here Press Association Sport examines five talking points heading into Sunday's clash with Italy.


England have made three changes to their starting XV, but it is the inclusion of Maro Itoje on the bench that really quickens the pulse. The 21-year-old is an athletic lock who captained the Under-20s to victory in the 2014 Junior World Championship and has been in magnificent form for Saracens this season. Coach Eddie Jones likens him to a Vauxhall Viva with the potential to become a BMW.


Jones had indicated he would make changes for Italy, but once again his approach to selection has been conservative. The presence of Itoje and Jack Clifford on the bench offer a glimpse into the future, but the starting XV remains full of familiar faces with the elevation of Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola a step sideways rather than forwards.


Billy Vunipola was the standout player in the 15-9 victory over Scotland and his performance was greeted by Jones with the predication he can become the best number eight in the game. The Saracens back row will clearly have a prominent role under Jones, but to fulfil expectations he must string together a series of stellar displays.


England have never lost to Italy in 21 meetings, but their recent record in Rome points to a challenging destination on the Six Nations schedule. A 41-point rout in 2014 was a highlight, but on each of the three prior visits they have won by five points or fewer. Jones refuses to see the fixture as a banana skin, however, by insisting his England team have no history.


Italy's admission into the Six Nations has failed to generate the uplift in performances expected and until their 23-21 defeat by France last Saturday, they appeared to be in an alarming state of decline. But the performance in Paris suggests England face a tougher assignment than initially expected and victory is far from assured.


From Belfast Telegraph