England wary of Italy slipup as Grand Slam looms

AFP, LONDON

Sat, Mar 09, 2013 - Page 19

England have never lost any of their 18 Tests against Italy and a heavy victory over the Azzurri at Twickenham tomorrow could all but assure Stuart Lancaster’s Grand Slam chasers of the title.

Logic suggests England, who were to name their team yesterday, ought to win well and move closer to a first Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003.

However, logic would not have forecast pre-tournament favorites France would now be bottom of the table and facing the prospect of a first whitewash in more than 50 years.

Mike Brown, set to retain his place on the left wing this weekend, insisted there was no danger of England getting ahead of themselves against an Italy side who blew the Championship wide open by beating France in the first round.

“We are just focused on winning the game and how we are going to do that. Scoring a lot of points doesn’t matter,” Brown said. “It is going to be a tough test. If we take our eye off the ball we will be turned over. We saw what they did to France.”

England coach Stuart Lancaster has already hinted he will pick a changed team to face the Azzurri, ahead of next week’s finale against Wales in Cardiff.

One alteration is set to be enforced, with the experienced Toby Flood likely to replace the injured Owen Farrell at flyhalf.

Meanwhile, prop forward Mako Vunipola is in line for a first Test start, with scrumhalf Danny Care, back-row James Haskell and hooker Tom Youngs all pushing for recalls as well.

Italy, who were also due to unveil their lineup yesterday, received welcome news on Wednesday when influential captain Sergio Parisse, one of the world’s leading back-row forwards, was cleared to face England.

Parisse was banned for 30 days after being sent off for verbally abusing a referee while playing for club side Stade Francais against Bordeaux-Begles in a French domestic match on Feb. 16.

The referee, Laurent Cardona, accused the Argentine-born Azzurri star of insulting him in English, a charge that multilingual Parisse has vehemently denied.

Under standard rugby procedure, a ban imposed in one competition also covers all others and Parisse was facing the prospect of missing out at Twickenham.

However, he won his appeal and the relief for Italy in having available a player for whom the word “talismanic” might have been invented was palpable, with coach Jacques Brunel wasting no time in restoring Parisse to the squad.