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Six Nations: New England tough enough to claim title, says Flood

Toby Flood reflects on England's dismal performance against Italy in last year's RBS 6 Nations as a watershed in the development of a team now considered title favourites.

England scraped a 17-12 victory in Rome with an uninspiring performance derided by virtually everyone except the then captain Steve Borthwick, who misguidedly hailed it as “fantastic”.

A draw with Scotland two games later proved the final straw for many of England's senior players, who demanded more honesty, a change in attitude and an end to “papering over the cracks”.

England head into Saturday's showdown with the Azzuri as the highest-ranked team in the championship on the back of a first victory over Wales in Cardiff since 2003.

But their tough new attitude was clear in the immediate aftermath at the Millennium Stadium, when boss Martin Johnson promised to dish out “a few rollockings” despite England's landmark win.

“We are harder on ourselves now than 12 months ago,” said Flood, who was man of the match in Cardiff.

“That Italy game was a real low. I agree, a big performance felt a long way off. I think there's a lot more honesty and openness now in the squad.

“That's crucial to what's going on. We definitely felt that against New Zealand in the autumn (which England lost 26-16 despite an encouraging display).

“That was a good effort and over the last two or three years we might have looked around and said 'well done'.

“After that game we were pretty disappointed and pretty upset with one another. The guys said 'this is isn't good enough, this is not our standard, this is not where we want to be'.

“There was certainly a change of mood that you could feel and the guys responded to that really well.”

Flood agreed England will have to be smarter in the way they approach teams like Italy, who will look to take them on physically and cramp their attacking ambition.

“When teams go out just to spoil it does become difficult. Look at how hard Ireland found it against Italy. They are a very strong side who can give you all sorts of problems.

“We are fully aware that could come this week. We have to be able to deal with that. We need to back ourselves and back what we're trying to do.”

Flood has ended the debate over who should start at fly-half, with Jonny Wilkinson now resigned to seeing out his England days on the bench.

Johnson, who will announce his starting XV at lunchtime, has made only one change to his 22-man with Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie replacing Joe Worsley.

Belfast Telegraph