- Farrell demanding performance from England at Twickenham
- Team's ability to adapt has been key to success so far
England Backs Coach Andy Farrell says Italy's attacking ambition shown during this season's RBS 6 Nations will make Sunday's match-up an even tougher clash than the arm-wrestle in Rome last year.
The Azzurri are currently fifth in the standings with two games to play against England and Ireland, but this year claimed the scalp of France 23-18 in Rome. While they failed to beat Scotland or Wales, there have been signs that the current Italian crop is willing to play a more expansive game of rugby and Farrell knows beating Jacques Brunel’s side will require a well-rounded performance.
“We are not focusing on one aspect of the game, we are focusing on all aspects,” said Farrell. “All parts of rugby have to come together for a very good performance so we have got to make sure we are right in all departments. One thing about this Italian side is that they do like to play a bit more than the team and regime from last year so we have to be on the ball and expect anything that comes at us.”
Last year England almost tripped up against Italy in Rome, having to fight back from 15-6 at half time to take the game 19-15. The seeds of Italy’s ambition were made apparent in the Stadio Olimpico and if it was not for a second-half charge-down try from Charlie Hodgson and the precise kicking of Owen Farrell, who notched up 14 points, England would have suffered their first ever defeat in 18 games against the Azzurri.
This year however England go into Sunday's match as the only side yet to suffer a loss and are on for their first Grand Slam since 2003. A key element of the team’s success so far in the tournament is their ability to adapt their game plan to match both the opponent and the conditions. Against Scotland Stuart Lancaster’s side played a strong running game in dry conditions, while in the wet in Ireland the focus shifted to the forwards and an intense defensive display.
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Farrell believes the players are becoming accomplished in their awareness of specific roles and responsibilities and said: “It’s about getting the collective right as a group and being good at what we have been good at. In a Test match you would always like a game or Test to go a certain way but there’s always an opposition who have something to say about that. What we have been good at over the past three games is adapting to how the game is actually flowing and that’s a sign of a good team because everything is not always going to go your way.
“We are pretty good at reading the here and now within the game and it’s down to good leadership on the field and it’s down to everyone else understanding their jobs.”
Leicester Tigers flanker Tom Croft has returned to the England set-up after recovering from a neck injury and will be aiming to impress in training this week. One change already public is that Toby Flood will start at fly half, with Owen Farrell not being rushed back after his quad injury.
Farrell says that there will be a few players wanting to put their foot forward for selection but that the coaches will not be making any snap decisions: “On Tuesday we trained in the morning and had a good session but selection won’t be made for a couple of days yet. We’ve said all along that we would like to get people in and we have got a large group in this week.
“There are 36 players here with Calum Clark and Crofty back, it’s good to let everyone see how combinations work together and give everyone the chance to put their front foot forward and show what they can do in training because it's intense and it’s a high standard. We are training with the best in England here so we want to see how they train in those circumstances. We like to give people a chance and that’s why we tend to make up our mind a little bit later on.”