England have never lost to Italy, but coach Eddie Jones said he was under no illusion the task facing his team when the sides play their second Six Nations match of the season on Sunday.
“We are confident we can go to Rome and win, but we’re in no doubt of the challenge we face. Italy took France very close so they’ll be fired up,” Jones said of the Six Nations opener when the Italians went down 23-21.
England won their opening match, Jones’ first in charge since taking over from Stuart Lancaster, winning 15-9 against Scotland, and the Australian coach has made three changes to that side.
Lock Courtney Lawes, loose-head prop Mako Vunipola and scrum-half Ben Youngs come in for Joe Launchbury, Joe Marler and Danny Care, who all drop to the bench.
“We’ve made a few changes to the line-up for Italy,” said Jones. “I believe this is the strongest 23 to go to Rome and get the performance and result we want.”
Jones also named two uncapped players on the bench with exciting Saracens forward Maro Itoje set to make his debut along with Northampton prop Paul Hill.
Itoje, 21, who can play both the second and back rows, caught Jones’ eye with his outstanding form for Saracens this season.
“Maro has consistently impressed me this week and, together with his excellent club form, has deserved his call up to the matchday squad,” he said.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made just one change to his side from the one that narrowly went down away to France, Australian-born 76-time capped Luke McLean replacing injured David Odiete at full-back.
“We’re not favourites,” Brunel said. “We’ve never beaten England and in the last two games we conceded between 40 and 50 points (52-11 and 47-17).
“The goal is to still be in the game at the 60th or 70th minute. Last year, we conceded 40 points but in the 55th minute we were in it. We didn’t manage to hold on through to the 70th minute. If we manage that, it can change things.”
Frenchman Brunel said he wanted to see “a warrior spirit, a fighter’s spirit, as I saw in Paris”, adding that despite England changing coach, the team would not differ massively.
“England’s changed coach but not players, they’re the same,” he said.
“They have a direct game which relies on power up front with some three-quarters that have shown over the last two or three years that they’re dangerous individually.
“They’ll play on power, possession and territorial advantage. The English are not like us or the French. They don’t have doubt, they continue on the same path for 80 minutes no matter the score.”
Carlo Canna starred at fly-half for Italy against the French and he called on his teammates to gird themselves for the English challenge.
“The France game is over, we paid a small price for our inexperience and that made the difference to the final score. Now we’re working hard to give England some food for thought,” he said.
“We’re facing a totally different team from last week: one that, in the first two phases, we’ll try to use the pack to push the team forward and open up the game.
“We have to be solid in the tackles, much more than we were against France.”