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The one thing England 'can't afford to do' early on against Italy

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Eddie Jones has highlighted the one thing his England team can’t afford to do early on against Italy on Sunday in round two of the Guinness Six Nations. The Italians are on a 33-game losing streak in the competition that stretches back to 2015 and the expectation is that the visiting English will run up a big score when the sides meet in Rome. 

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Jones wants the match to finish with a ruthless England looking down on Italy in the same sort of antagonistic way that boxing’s Muhammad Ali stood over the floored Sonny Liston in 1965. 

However, with England taking the field with a more youthful and inexperienced team than in last weekend’s round one match in Scotland after Jones made six changes to his starting Six Nations XV, he accepts it might take time to build a score against an Italian team that twice led France in Paris last week in the first half before losing 37-10. 

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“These matches are called Test matches because the opposition test you,” he cautioned. “It is not a festival game, so we know it is going to be a tough game and the players are being encouraged to be aggressive. We want to be an aggressive team and we feel that is the best way forward for England and we want to take opportunities. 

“That was the thing we were disappointed the most with against Scotland, we didn’t take those opportunities as they availed themselves. What you can’t afford to do against Italy is get a picture in your head that it is going to be an easy game and then try to create opportunities. The opportunities will come and then we have got to be aggressive and be clinical to take those opportunities. 

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“We want to light up Rome, we want to play some really good rugby. We are going to get a lot of kick return, which is going to be our main source of possession and then in the set-piece we want to continue our development of the maul and the scrum we started with Scotland.

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“Without going into the details of our attack, we want to be aggressive, we want to take opportunities as they come rather than play a patterned style of rugby. We have really tried to create a new England style of rugby which is about getting position quickly, where is the opportunity, let’s go to that opportunity and let’s not wait for that to be built up by a pattern. 

“It’s a little bit different from what some of them [the players] play at their club level so it takes some adjustment and it will continue to tackle some adjustment. It is not going to be a linear progression, we are going to have ups and downs but I am really pleased with the way the players have absorbed the lessons from Scotland and got on with their preparation for Italy.

“The response has been very good. Extremely disappointed after the game. Bounced back, we trained late on Tuesday night, we have an old fashioned session under lights that wouldn’t qualify for telecast and they trained really well, had a good session on Wednesday and again trained well Friday. They have bounced back really well. 

“The thing about these situations is there is a lot of outside noise, a lot of opinions, a lot of judgment on players and it is important for the team to understand what is important, what do we need to do rather than get sometimes seduced by other comments. So the ability to stay committed to the team is the most important thing and I have seen a lot of that this week.”

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