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RBS Six Nations Preview Italy v England.

RBS Six Nations Preview Italy v England.

Italy begin their RBS Six Nations campaign with a daunting opening match against world champions England at the Flaminio Stadium on Sunday.

Italy begin their RBS Six Nations campaign with a daunting opening match against world champions England at the Flaminio Stadium on Sunday.

It will be England’s first competitive game since they defeated
in Sydney last November where fly-half Jonny Wilkinson’s dramatic
drop goal in
the final minute of extra-time secured the Webb Ellis trophy.

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Italy have finished no higher than fifth in the tournament they
became part
of in 2000, but rather than fear England, Azzurri coach John Kirwan
can’t wait
to face the defending Six Nations champions.

“For us, Sunday will be a fantastic day, a fun day,”
said the 39-year-old
New Zealander, an integral member of the All Blacks side that
captured the
World Cup in 1987.
“We will have the advantage of being the underdog. All the
pressure will be
on England because they are world champions and they have to go out
and prove
it in every match.”

In the past, rugby has received a rather lukewarm reception from
football-crazy Italian public, but the prospect of seeing the
world champions sparked a rush for tickets in the capital and the
game is a
24,000 sell-out.

Kirwan, whose Italy team narrowly missed out on a first-ever
place at the World Cup, said playing in front of a full house will
give his
players extra motivation.

“It’s the first time in the history of Italian rugby that the
stadium will
be full and we are obliged to give our all,” he said.
“It’s our responsibility as a team to help rugby in Italy.
There’s been
more interest, more media, more television coverage, more

Kirwan said he was confident Italy would improve on their
performance in
last year’s Six Nations when they claimed one victory against the
Welsh, which
was enough for them to avoid the wooden spoon for a fourth time.

“We need to consolidate our position as a team and continue
to win
matches,” he said. “This year I’m looking for two
victories, one at home and
one away.”

Calvisano flanker Andrea De Rossi will captain Italy as regular
Alessandro Troncon is still recovering from a knee injury.

Kirwan, scorer of 34 tries in 63 Test matches for New Zealand,
said the
31-year-old De Rossi was the natural choice to lead the team out
England in the absence of Troncon.
“One thing we ask all players is that they raise their game
to another
level when they put on the national shirt,” he said.
“The Italians have a phrase ‘Mandare oltre’, to play above
yourself, and De
Rossi always does that.

“He is completely different to Troncon in terms of
personality. He is
quieter and makes less noise out on the pitch, but he has an aura
about him
and the total respect of his team-mates.”

England go into Sunday’s match in Rome with just 10 of the
starting side
that defeated Australia.
Wilkinson has been ruled out of the whole tournament after having
on a neck injury, so Northampton fly-half Paul Grayson takes over the
Grayson has a proven international record with his tally of 357
points in
29 Tests making him England’s third-highest scorer of all time behind
Andrew (396) and Wilkinson (817).

Lawrence Dallaglio takes over as skipper from Martin Johnson, who
his retirement from international rugby last month after leading the
team to
victory in Australia.

Dallaglio, whose father was born in Italy, was England captain
Johnson, but was forced to resign from the post due to newspaper
he took drugs for recreational use, a claim he has always denied.

Flanker Neil Back, capped 66 times, has been axed by England coach
due to his poor form for his club Bath.

will lift their
game against us. I’m under no illusion about that. I know how I would play against the world champions. I would
be at their
throats from the start.” said the 31-year-old Wasps No.8.
“The game gives us the chance to set our standards again
after the World
Cup. This is our first match as world champions and every team will
be looking
for us,”

“Everyone in the squad realises the rugby world will be
watching England
but hopefully we have the experience and ability to handle it,”
Dallaglio told
at the squad’s southern England training base.
And he said the performance of Italian teams in this season’s
competitions proved that John Kirwan’s men were no longer content to
be Six
Nations makeweights.

“They had a difficult time during the World Cup in that their
schedule gave
them a big mountain to climb,” he said.
“For those of us who have been playing against their
provincial sides in
the European Cup competitions their improvement is there to see.
Their results
are getting better and better,” insisted Dallaglio who lost the
captaincy to World Cup-winning skipper Johnson back in 1999 following
newspaper allegations of drug use.

“Physically they provide the sternest of tests. In all the
games I have
played against Italy we have had to make an enormous amount of
tackles. They
have the ability to keep hold of the ball and put you under