After a week’s break, the 6 Nations is back and the Red Roses will be looking to dispatch their latest opponents, Italy, in the same fashion as they did Wales in the last round.
The Italians have had a rough start to the championship, suffering home defeats to both Wales and Ireland, and have scored only 11 points in their opening two games. They battled hard against both, but, much like the men’s side, were just not strong enough compared to their opponents.
However, in full back Manuela Furlan, Italy have one of the best attacking threats in the tournament. She plies her trade for Kent-based Aylesford Bulls, so will be familiar to many of the England players. An elegant, balanced runner with an eye for a gap, Furlan will keep the English defence on their toes.
Italy’s pack is also one of their strong points. Much like France, they are very physical and will look to dominate the breakdown and make metres, tiring out the English forwards and drawing in the defence to create space for the likes of Furlan out wide.
The Red Roses will not want to start as they did against France, where the away side’s big forward pack made easy ground and allowed their backs to run riot. They will need to be organised and abrasive up front, knowing that the Italians are likely to tire later on in the game.
England have rung the changes, with eight players making their first starts in this year’s championship. While full back Sarah McKenna, fly half Natalie Scott and prop Justine Lucas are relatively inexperienced at this level, they are surrounded by players with plenty of caps to their names and, against relatively weak opposition, should perform well.
Additionally, England’s bench is very strong, and Italy will not fancy seeing the likes of Katy McLean, Izzy Noel-Smith and Natasha Hunt coming into the action late in the game.
One player to watch will be Saracens hooker Vicky Fleetwood, who replaces Amy Cokayne in the starting lineup. Fleetwood impressed in the Autumn tests and is a live-wire in attack. She’s very mobile and makes good metres in contact, much like Marlie Packer. She’s also strong at the breakdown, as evidenced in the Wales game where she won a crucial turnover penalty on her own line.
After their 63 – 0 hammering of Wales, the Red Roses will be hoping for a similarly impressive performance this week. While the changes made to the team may lead to a bit of rustiness as new combinations take time to gel, I expect the Red Roses to win easily. They have superior fitness and skill in the back line, and are on a roll after two contrasting, but equally impressive, victories. They will also be looking to make a statement against a team they will face later on this year at the World Cup, as Italy are in the same pool as the world champions.
Kick off: Saturday 25th February @ 1pm, Twickenham Stoop
How to watch: Live on Sky Sports 2 and Eurosport IT
Scotland v Wales – Friday 24th February at Broadwood Stadium – KO 18:20 GMT – Live on BBC Wales
Ireland v France – Sunday 26th February at Donnybrook, Dublin – KO 12:45 GMT – Live on RTE and France 4