- Cole will face Tigers team-mate Martin Castrogiovanni against Italy
- Prop made his debut against The Azzuri in 2010
In the close-knit world of international rugby you are invariably going to end up playing against one of your club team-mates, putting aside week-to-week camaraderie for 80 minutes as you battle it out for your country and those all-important bragging rights next time you meet up.
In 2010, Dan Cole made his full debut for England against Italy at the Stadio Flaminio, packing down against leading Leicester Tigers tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni. It was a fierce encounter with no love-lost between the two Tigers players, with “Castro” sin-binned in the second half for a breakdown infringement. The sin-binning did not help Italy‘s cause and England eventually took the win 17-12 thanks to a late Mat Tait try, with Cole remembering the day as a baptism of fire for a 23-year-old tighthead.
“It was a tough day at the office for us and I don’t think the score was very high,” said Cole. “We went over there and we got caught in a bit of a fight and a bit of a brawl with the Italians and that’s the way they play. We were lucky to come through that day with a victory. Look at their results after that, at home especially against the French and other sides. They have been a very successful side so we were fortunate that day to get a victory.”
Cole, who has started every game under Stuart Lancaster, is aiming to help keep England’s unbeaten 18 match record against The Azzurri and their unbeaten run so far in this year’s tournament.
Wins against Scotland, Ireland and France mean England are on for their first Grand Slam since 2003 while Italy are aiming to gain their second victory of the tournament after a shock win against Les Bleus in the opening round.
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But while much of the media is treating the encounter as a foregone conclusion, the performances so far by Italy cannot be overlooked. The Italians have prided themselves on strong forward play and solid set piece, winning 91 per cent of scrums on their own ball in the RBS 6 Nations (tournament high), and now have added a previously unseen attacking dimension.
Cole is expecting a tight battle up front but also believes the win over France shows they are playing an expansive game: “Italians pride themselves on their set piece. For a long time you look at their forward pack and there are always some big names. They always have a lot of international experience and every year there are a lot of good players and great players in that Italian pack. Traditionally it’s behind the scrum that they have struggled but this year they have played a lot more rugby than they have done previously and they have got results.
“We expect what we normally expect from Italy in their forward pack but obviously the lads have to play their game. But it starts at the set piece with the scrum, the line out, the maul, the breakdown, as every time you play Italy you are in for a fight there.
“You look at the way they win their own ball and that allows them to get into the game physically as a forward pack but also allows their backs to play which is what they have shown especially against France when they threw the ball around, likewise against Scotland where they threw the ball around as well. You want to try and take that away from them but they are a good side but it’s a competition you look forward to in the forward pack.”
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The majority of the tight clashes in the past five years have been in Rome, with Italy losing by five points or less in the last three match-ups on Italian soil. At Twickenham however, England have scored 115 points in the last three matches against Italy, while The Azzurri have only scored 30 points in return.
Cole recognises that the home advantage of the 82,000 strong Twickenham crowd will be a great boost to the team on Sunday outlined the aim to turn the stadium back into a fortress.
“We want to make Twickenham a fortress and you know that comes through hard work and trying to get everything that we can from training and matches,” says Cole. “You do that and the crowd get behind you and hopefully that sort of feeds into the others aspects, whether it be attacking rugby etc . The crowd can lift you and it gets players on their feet and going forward.”
And what about Castro? Cole will again pack down against an Italian front row bolstered by the hirsute talisman, who Cole says he is going to have to outplay to help England win.
“You come through the system at Leicester and obviously Castro was the man along with Julian White and people like that. What he brought around the field and his ability around the field, whether ball carrying or defensively is something you try and emulate.
“You have to be as good as him if not better in those areas and that’s something I am still working on today, trying to catch up and do that, and I think you look at what he has done in the game and the amount of caps he has for Italy, the big games he has played for Leicester – it’s incredible what he brings to the party."