England v Italy – Saturday 16:45, ITV
Eddie Jones is looking to bounce back strongly from their defeat at the Principality having named a strong side to face the Italians. He’s opted for sheer size as Ben Teo partners Manu Tuilagi in midfield, while the exciting 18-stone Joe Cokanasiga starts on the wing. The visitors will take encouragement from their superb first-half display in Rome a fortnight ago they had Ireland rattled, however, it wasn’t enough as their winless run in the Six Nations extended to 20 matches and it’s hard to see that ending this weekend at Twickenham.
Connor O’Shea is constantly talking about building for the future and his team are certainly showing signs of improvement, not to mention the fact that he can recall upon the services of key players Sergio Parisse and Sebastian Negri. However, England know a thing or two about putting away weaker opposition at Twickenham. Indeed, when excluding Wales and Ireland in this competition they have won each of their seven matches here since 2015 by an average winning margin of 23 points as they have scored 36 tries across them, including the opening touchdown in five. The only result in this spread that wasn’t a comfortable victory was their 19-16 victory against France in the opening match of the 2017 Six Nations, but the first round of this tournament tends to provide much closer encounters.
The Azzuri only went down by 21 points in their last visit to Twickenham after deploying their controversial ruck tactics, so England starting as 33-point favorites suggests there is a little value in the visitors on the handicap line. However, as is always the case with Italy it’s difficult to be too confident in backing them under such circumstances as the hosts could easily run away with it in the last 20-minutes. Therefore, we’d rather look to the opening tryscorer market given the Azzurri have suffered the first blow in 23 of their 26 trips in this tournament since 2009, including each of their last 10. Backs alone account for 20 of those and with that in mind, we fancy Ben Teo at a huge price to draw first blood. He scored the last time O’Shea’s chargers came to town and is looking to make a big impression on his return from injury.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nathan Hughes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Henry Slade
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 David Sisi, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Castello
*Odds are subject to change
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