England insist they are ready for all eventualities after being warned by Italy to expect more trickery in Sunday’s NatWest 6 Nations clash.
Eddie Jones’ men launch their title defence and quest for an unprecedented hat-trick of championship crowns at the Stadio Olimpico with the memory of last year’s showdown still vivid.
Italy employed controversial no-ruck tactics to spread confusion for much of the first half at Twickenham and although the ruse cannot be repeated due to a law change, they have planned several new tricks to level the playing field.
Brendan Venter, the Azzurri’s coaching consultant and the architect of ‘ruck gate’, has declared that a normal gameplan “won’t work”, but the champions are prepared for the unusual.
“We want our players to see what’s in front of them and adapt to whatever is posed. We want a team that’s adaptable,” forwards coach Steve Borthwick said.
“We have a squad of players who are hungry, want the ball and want to go forward and has the mindset to attack.
“Wherever we go we want to perform to the very best of our ability, that’s always the focus. We’re aiming to continue to improve against Italy and have had a great two weeks of preparation.”
An experienced Italy team coached by Conor O’Shea are not expected to trouble England and the last time the underdogs triumphed in the Six Nations was 1,072 days ago, against Scotland in 2015.
Borthwick knows their potential to cause problems, however, after he was captain for a tense 23-19 victory in Rome in 2008.
“Italy have some very good players and also a very experienced coaching staff, so we know they’ll be very well prepared,” Borthwick said.
“They have one or two new faces and what that’s meant is that we have focused upon our preparation so that our players are ready for whatever is in front of them.
“This is international rugby and these games are always intense encounters and we’re expecting that intensity against Italy.”
England enter their opener with the marauding but injured Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes unavailable at number eight, giving Sam Simmonds the opportunity to add depth in the position.
The 23-year-old will be making his second start and despite his lack of size compared to Vunipola and Hughes, he is effective in a different way.
“Sam did very, very well during the autumn series. He’s quick off the base of the scrum, he finds space when he carries and is very hard working,” Borthwick said.
“He’s quick. He can run with our backs he’s that quick. He has some real ability and has a great attitude to go with it.
“You need a balance of ball carrying across your pack. We have Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes as well as Sam, so there’s a good mix of carriers there
“Look at Lawes’ footwork and the way Sam finds space. There are different types of carriers and that mix is a positive.”