Italy scare can lead to Slam
Mon, 11 Mar 2013 07:28
There may have been an element of complacency
England coach Stuart Lancaster hopes the shock of a scrappy 18-11 win over Italy will work in his side's favour when they try to complete a Six Nations Grand Slam against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
"It [the win over Italy] won't be good enough [to beat Wales] but equally, from a coaching point of view, it gives us plenty to go at," said Lancaster.
"If we'd won easily, there may have been an element of complacency or over-confidence seeping in.
"There won't be any of that," added Lancaster, much praised for his down-to-earth approach after taking over from Martin Johnson following England's wretched 2011 World Cup campaign.
England have never lost in 19 Tests against Italy and when the Azzurri last came to London two years they were on the end of a 59-13 thrashing.
Had England inflicted a similar Twickenham trouncing upon Italy on Sunday, they may have already had one hand on the Six Nations Championship trophy.
But their title, as well as Grand Slam, hopes are now in the balance ahead of their clash with defending champions Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
If Wales, who beat Scotland 28-18 at Murrayfield to remain in second place, defeat England by eight or more points they will retain their title.
Were Wales to win by seven points, the Championship would be decided on try count, with the Welsh currently two tries better off than England.
A "fresh" England side featuring five changes from the team that beat France, started strongly against Italy but butchered two possible tries in a match where the Azzurri's Australia-born wing Luke McLean scored the only try of the game.
Fortunately for England, a mixture of Italian indiscipline and the boot of fly-half Toby Flood, who scored all their points with six penalties from as many attempts after coming in for the injured Owen Farrell, kept alive hopes of a first Red Rose Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003.
But Italy laid siege to England's line in the closing stages and not until Courtney Lawes's line-out steal three minutes from time could the hosts be sure of victory.
However, Lancaster insisted the confidence of his youthful side would remain unshaken by this escape.
"We know we have got to play better, we know Wales are playing well but equally we know what we need to do to fix things up and we are confident in the players we've got," he said.
"We've still got a young team and we need to be a little bit more composed in key areas. That composure will be tested at the highest level on Saturday.
"It will be great to see where we are at."
Italy caused the shock of the Championship so far by beating pre-tournament favourites France 23-18 on the opening weekend and, with inspirational captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse back from suspension, they nearly claimed the scalp of the only major European side they've yet to beat.
"We paid Italy a lot of respect," said Lancaster. "Gone are the days when Italy turned up and people beat them easily."
Meanwhile, Italy full-back Andrea Masi, the man-of-the-match at Twickenham, tipped England to beat Wales after facing both sides this Championship.
"It's going to be a tough game but I think England are a bit more dangerous than Wales," he said.
"This was a very good performance by Italy. We came from two poor games (heavy defeats by Scotland and Wales) and we played better rugby, more aggressive, much more physical."
Italy's French coach Jacques Brunel added: "We showed we wanted to fight the England team. We had good possession of the ball but England had more discipline than we did and we incurred a few penalties."
Italy complete the Championship at home to an Ireland side who faltered in a 13-13 draw with France and an understandably upbeat Brunel insisted: "We are on the right road and moving in the right direction."
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