THERE is one huge positive for England as they prepare for Sunday’s penultimate RBS Six Nations fixture against Italy, and that’s the return to fitness of flanker Tom Croft.
A fractured vertebrae last season has left him with metal plates and screws in his neck, and it’s testament to his courage, fitness and ability to overcome a career-threatening setback that he is in contention for a comeback this weekend.
From what I’ve seen of Croft in his games back for Leicester, I think he’s ready for everything the Test arena can throw at him, and this could be great news for the Lions too.
One man set to miss out through injury, however, is fly-half Owen Farrell. It’s a blow for him because he was having a fantastic season, but the good news is England have a great replacement in Toby Flood, who until Farrell’s emergence was first choice.
Sergio Parisse’s return from suspension, meanwhile, is fantastic for Italy. He is truly world class and, were you compiling an international XV, he could well be a starter.
Italy beat France and have been very competitive in their other games. They are big and aggressive, and if England are not in the right frame of mind the visitors will cause them major problems.
A fourth consecutive win would put England in touching distance of the grand slam but they must focus only on a professional performance.
England will look to keep the penalty count in single figures, cut out the handling mistakes they made against France, and tactically turn the screw, moving Italy about in order to create scoring chances.
If they do the right things for the first 60 minutes, they should get opportunities in the crucial last 20 minutes of the match, when I expect those on the bench to have a huge impact, to increase the score and make it a classy, as well as a comfortable, England triumph.
England’s most capped player Jason Leonard is a Senior Advisor for Besso Insurance Group, an independent Lloyd’s Insurance Broker specialising in all forms of Commercial and Personal Lines insurance www.besso.co.uk