- Rowntree says England have not discussed racking up points in Rome
- Forwards Coach delighted with “dynamic, skilful” pack
A simple glance at this England team’s record against Italy is enough for the respect of Graham Rowntree, and as such collecting a fourth RBS 6 Nations win for the third successive season is the squad’s primary focus – despite the lure of the Championship offered by a glut of points in Rome.
Tournament leaders Ireland are in pole position to take the title with a win in Paris against France but if Stuart Lancaster’s troop can make up the 49-point deficit at the Stadio Olimpico, the trophy will be hoisted by England captain Chris Robshaw.
Although Italy have never beaten England, four- and seven-point margins of victory in the last two meetings – 19-15 in 2012 and 18-11 in 2013 – mean victory will not come easily. And for forwards coach Rowntree, that task starts against the Azzurri’s big, abrasive pack.
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“It starts upfront against Italy,” said the former England loose head. “The thing is with the Italians, like the French, they are a big pack and not many teams go over there and put many points on them. Two years ago we won 19-15 and it wasn’t a glamorous game.
“Last year they came to our own patch and we just got out of jail when they rolled on a 6-2 bench and put a lot of pressure on us. There is a lot there for us to respect when we go over there, we’ve got to win the game, we haven’t spoken about points difference.”
Lancaster has opted to include fit-again Manu Tuilagi on the bench for Italy at the expense of Alex Goode, with the potential of using the centre’s power and try-scoring ability – the 22 year-old has five tries in his last seven England starts – against a tiring Italian defence.
Rowntree said it is huge benefit to have a “wrecking-ball” like Tuilagi available once again, regardless of whether England are chasing a substantial points total in the hope of piling the pressure on Ireland.
“Regardless of chasing points, being able to have someone like Manu on the field is significant. He can be a wrecking-ball with ball in hand,” he said. “Being able to have the luxury of having someone like that come onto the field is great for us.
“But that doesn’t take anything away from Alex, that’s just part of the squad we are at the moment. There’s a lot of competition and guys understand when it’s appropriate to bring other players into the squad.”
In stark contrast to the crushing defeat in Cardiff a year ago, when England were dominated at the scrum and the breakdown, the victory over Wales was built on the solidity and dynamism of the forwards.
Four scrum penalties, which Owen Farrell crucially turned into nine points, were gleaned by England’s front row and Rowntree spoke of his pleasure in the performances, for differing reasons, of props Joe Marler and David Wilson.
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At just 23 Marler has started 12 of England’s last 14 Tests, while Wilson, so long the understudy to Dan Cole at tight head, was parachuted into the side with just 49 minutes of club rugby in the tank for Bath after injury.
Rowntree said: “I thought they were exceptional. I’m especially pleased for Joe, he got a lot of criticism following last year and he put in a good shift for us. It was a very accurate performance, he carried well, tackled with dominant impacts and scrummed well for us.
“And Davey is making line-breaks, offloading the ball, hitting 38 breakdowns and I’m really pleased with how he’s fitted back into the group. He know his calls, knows what he’s doing and he’s done really well in the last two games for us.”
After four impressive performances in the 2014 RBS 6 Nations, England’s eight-man unit are being heralded as a truly modern group able to blend brutal physicality with subtleties in changing the point of contact with neat passing.
Rowntree is delighted with the “dynamic, skilful” players he at his disposal but will not let them get ahead of themselves or start believing the hype surrounding their displays. Especially when their coach demands they smother all the teams they face with physical superiority.
He concluded: “Our job as coaches is to keep them grounded and keep an eye on their detail. We must demand high standards. We had a review this morning and we spoke a lot about our own standards and there is still a long way to go in key areas.
“I want them to be dominating other sides. We speak a lot about our all-court game in terms of our carrying, passing, offloading and our breakdown. Our breakdown and our ball speed was good at the weekend but I still want us, when asked, at key scrums or at key lineouts or at key mauls, to be able to challenge teams in those departments.”