So much for England being depleted for their tilt at a record third straight outright Six Nations title.
“The magic sponge has done well for us,” England coach Eddie Jones said, after naming a close-to-full-strength team for the opening match of their title defense against Italy today.
A slew of injuries — there were 13 senior players out at one stage last month — was the primary factor behind Jones saying England should not be cast as the tournament favorite.
Even last week, Jones was preparing to be without influential players such as Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and potentially Maro Itoje for the trip to Rome. There was barely a mention of center Ben Te’o, who had not played a competitive game since October last year because of ankle trouble.
It came as a surprise when Jones was able to name all four of those players in his team and also another recently injured player, Jack Nowell, on the bench.
The chances of Italy gaining a first ever win over England — at the 24th time of asking — suddenly took a nosedive.
“Maybe Sunday after the match it will be a difficult night,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea said. “But we’re preparing matches to win them and the great thing about sport is that anything can happen.” When it comes to the Italians, Jones knows this all too well.
In this fixture last year, Italy used a tactic dubbed “The Fox” at Twickenham Stadium in London to bamboozle England by frequently not contesting the breakdown. That freed-up their players to get beyond the usual ruck line and block any passes behind the tackle area.
So bewildered were England’s players that they were asking French referee Romain Poite how to counter the unusual approach, and they were only two points ahead with 12 minutes to go before going on to win 36-15.
An angry Jones, who told his players before the match to “take Italy to the cleaners,” said after the match Italy played against the spirit of rugby.
“We’ll see what they throw up this time,” Jones said about Italy last week when asked if his players were expecting the unexpected.
The topic has come up frequently in and around the England camp this week, but the match dubbed “Ruckgate” has not been mentioned by the Azzurri, at least not in public.
Italy will need to come up with something special to end their drought against the English. The best they can realistically hope for is keeping the score down.
England’s big absentees are injured No. 8s Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, while flanker James Haskell is suspended. Otherwise, the big guns are all there, led by Dylan Hartley as England starts their bid to become the first team in the tournament’s 135-year history to win it outright for three straight years.
Jones has urged his team to “play with intensity, aggression” and to “physically intimidate Italy.” Italy has lost its last 12 Six Nations matches and is looking to avoid finishing last for the third straight year.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two