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Six Nations: England head for Italian Job having stayed true to their word in Wales

11 Feb | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Six Nations: England head for Italian Job having stayed true to their word in Wales

Stuart Lancaster warned that 2015 would see a switch in emphasis. He was not joking.

Wales cannot say they were not warned. The clue that England were about to step up a gear came directly from the mouth of Stuart Lancaster.

“The challenge when I came into the job was to win and develop the team at the same time,” England’s head coach said at the turn of the year. “Now the cycle of the team has reached a point where the development bit stops. It’s about the winning.”

His message got rather lost amid the rash of injuries which followed and England journeyed to Wales with all the talk about their personnel crisis rather than their sharpened focus.

What transpired in Cardiff however bears out what Lancaster was saying and sounds a clear warning that England, 219 days out from the World Cup, now have their eyes on the prize.

This Saturday at Twickenham they play Italy, against whom they have never lost. They will field an unchanged side. History tells us that for an hour it will be an arm wrestle then England will pull clear.

This is a team which has been forced to adapt on the hoof and which has grown in strength from its ability to do so.

It would be unfair to say they have stumbled on solutions, but a number of last week’s star performers did owe their opportunity to the unavailability of others.

Tom Wood’s injury meant the return of James Haskell, who gave the back row a better balance at the Millennium Stadium. Manu Tuilagi’s absence brought about the recall of Jonathan Joseph, who added snap and a cutting edge to the midfield. 

You could go on. Dave Attwood, Luther Burrell, Billy Vunipola each played really well in Wales. Each are beneficiaries of injuries to Joe Launchbury, Brad Barritt and Ben Morgan.

The conclusion is that England now have a large pool of players capable of delivering on the big stage. 

Their commanding performance – from pre-match tunnel stand-off to George Ford’s late penalty kick – gives them a real chance of a first Grand Slam in a dozen years. As well as Italy, Scotland and France must come to Twickenham. On paper, only the trip to Ireland on March 1 can derail them.

We’ve been here before with England of course. Putting the cart before the horse. The Irish, ante-post title favourites, will be a formidable foe. I expect Joe Schmidt’s men to beat France at the Aviva on Saturday to set up a clash of the only two unbeaten sides.

The Six Nations is all about momentum and Wales lost theirs to such a degree against England that Scotland, who impressed in narrow defeat away to France, have a strong chance of beating them at Murrayfield on Sunday.

You don’t become a bad team overnight and the Welsh still have Lions coming out of their ears. But they were outdone by England far more comprehensively than the scoreline suggests and that will take a bit of getting over.