England resume their 2017 Six Nations campaign on Sunday as they welcome Italy to Twickenham hoping to continue their journey towards a second successive Grand Slam.
The Red Rose are the only team to have won both their matches thus far in this year's championship, while the Azzurri trail at the table's base after suffering defeat in each of the competition's opening two rounds.
England coach Eddie Jones has rung the changes for this Week 3 outing and has elected to hand four of his regular starters a rest while reaping the benefits of arguably the deepest talent pool of any squad present.
Italy, meanwhile, face a tremendous battle against the odds if they're to shock their hosts and take a result from Twickenham, with captain Sergio Parisse once again under pressure to lead his men against huge opposition.
Read on for a preview of Sunday's Week 3 showdown, complete with a breakdown of all the essential viewing information needed to watch the clash.
Date: Sunday, February 26
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Venue: Twickenham, London
Live Stream: ITV Hub (UK)
TV Info: ITV (UK)
|2017 Six Nations Table|
England's New Look
England coach Jones has opted against attempting to reinvent the wheel against Italy, but his four changes from the team that defeated Wales 21-16 in Cardiff a fortnight ago nevertheless promise to have a big impact.
The Sunday Times' Stephen Jones has spoken with anticipation about the promise of centre Ben Te'o, who replaces Jonathan Joseph in midfield, while scrum-half Danny Care has replaced Ben Youngs:
Stephen Jones @stephenjones9
@Jim_Hulbert Yes, with you on those. Teo has something about him Jim2/16/2017, 12:49:51 PM
James Haskell also comes into the starting XV at the expense of Jack Clifford at openside flanker, while Jonny May replaces Jack Nowell on the wing and Mako Vunipola makes his way back on to the bench.
One figure Jones would have liked to welcome back is Mako's brother Billy Vunipola, although the No. 8 recently informed BT Sport the coach is still keeping tabs on his progress after knee surgery:
BT Sport Rugby @btsportrugby
"Stay away from the buffets!"🍗🍟🌭🍕 Eddie Jones' brief advice to a sidelined Billy Vunipola...😂 https://t.co/vjuwDfqygv2/17/2017, 7:09:03 PM
That being said, England will feel they have the depth necessary to defeat the Azzurri, and their Week 3 outing on home soil may even be looked upon by some as a valuable experiment in the lineup.
Te'o in particular will be worthy of a watch following his try off the bench in the Week 1 clash against France, while it may also be worth keeping an eye on back Henry Slade when he makes his appearance off the bench.
Wooden Spoon Fate for Italy?
As we approach the halfway mark in this year's championship, escalating pressure falls on Italy to ensure they don't end coach Conor O'Shea's first Six Nations with a winless record, as has been the case in past years.
It helps the Azzurri's case that former England skills coach Mike Catt is now a part of O'Shea's Italian setup, although the gulf in player talent separating the two teams still threatens to impede their route.
Despite suggestions that the national team position is more of a challenge than he anticipated, O'Shea recently insisted he isn't in over his head, per the London Evening Standard's Chris Jones:
"The biggest issue we have is mental. When you come from a background of losing it is hard to change that mindset—but we will because there are good young players in Italy. I have told the players we are going to have some tough times as we get fitter and mentally stronger: the two big things we need to improve.
"It’s not a bigger job than I expected but there are a lot of facets to it. We have to work on the things we can control and the quality of players here is much better than I thought."
Italy are yet to snatch a result against England in 22 attempts, stretching back to their maiden clash in 1991, and they were blown away by a margin of 30 points in their most recent visit to Twickenham (47-17, February 2015).
Italy started strong against Wales and later fell to pieces, while a slow start was behind their 63-10 defeat to Ireland a fortnight ago. Now O'Shea's men need an 80-minute performance to stave off their wooden spoon worries.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!