England continue to expect the unexpected from O’Shea and Italy
Parisse suggests visitors to Twickenham will stick to their more expansive game plan
Italy’s Jayden Hayward during the captain’s run at Twickenham Stadium, London. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
It has been England’s party line all week that they are expecting the unexpected today, all too aware of how they were bamboozled by Conor O’Shea’s side two years ago, but Italy know exactly what is coming.
England have picked what O’Shea has described as Jones’s dream backline including Manu Tuilagi, Ben Te’o and Joe Cokanasiga. Or to paraphrase their captain Sergio Parisse: definitely physical, not so much fizz.
“We do not expect too many passes or too much champagne rugby around the field.”
Jones’s temperature may have lowered somewhat since 2017, when he urged supporters to ask for a refund in the wake of Italy’s no ruck tactic, but the fox continues to stalk Italy’s visit to Twickenham. So much so that he has seemingly picked a team with revenge in mind.
Clearly he has not forgotten what happened, as demonstrated by his pointed remark on Thursday – “If Conor lets them play rugby, they can play some good rugby” – and it was regurgitated pretty much verbatim by George Kruis yesterday.
“If Conor lets them play then they can play and produce some magic out the back. We’re prepared for that and we’re not underestimating them,” he said.
O’Shea for his part gave a cryptic answer when asked if Italy had anything else up their sleeve – “[You’ll] have to wait and see” – but truth be told, it is unlikely.
O’Shea was unimpressed with the fallout last time – not so much Jones’s ire, but that it distracted from the fact that his side gave England an almighty scare until running out of puff.
“The big difference with two years ago is that we were not fit enough in any way or shape of form,” he said.
“If you looked at the ball in play time and the game went over 30 minutes then we would be dead in the water. Teams knew that. We had to make sure that we got these players fitter. There is a difference in terms of intensity and execution under the pressure, which is the next step, but we now know that our fitness is not an issue.”
O’Shea proceeded for the rest of his press conference with his usual positivity in the face of a 20-match Six Nations losing streak and on the eve of what he believes is his side’s biggest challenge of this year’s championship.
“I talk about performances all the time to the players, we will get there with results,” he added.
“We are doing the right things for Italian rugby but what we will do is we will fight and we will be right there and we will play ambitious rugby and bring the game to England when we get the opportunity because we have got some brilliant talent in this team.”
Parisse echoed his coach’s sentiment and it is clear that with Italy unlikely to go through England’s hulking defence, they will have to navigate a way around it.
“If you saw our games against Ireland and before, we are not the Italian team who play slow rugby, using mauls and playing a boring game any more,” he added. “We are trying to be a more attacking team, with more possession, trying to move the ball around.
“Our backline is not as physical as England’s so our idea is to move them a little bit and to work on our set-pieces, to put pressure on them. And to be disciplined, because we gave away too many penalties against us when we faced Ireland. We of course respect this England team, but we have come here to play our game. Maybe it will be enough to cause them problems.”
O’Shea meanwhile, also had a word of encouragement for Kyle Sinckler, England’s tighthead prop who he knows well, having brought him through Harlequins academy. Sinckler starred for nearly an hour against Wales last time out but his apparent loss of composure coincided with Wales’s comeback in Cardiff.
“Eddie came to Quins in the first week he was in the job and asked ‘is there anyone we are missing?’ I said, ‘Sink’,” he said.
“He is explosive, he has got the lot. For all the players we had at Quins – Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown etc –I said ‘Eddie, the man is Sink’. The kid is special. At the age of 16 we put him on the bench to go to Toulouse in the Champions Cup. England are bloody lucky to have him and he’s going to become a pretty big legend in this game.”
– Guardian Service