Italy v England - key battles

The English adore Rome – what’s not to love? – but the rugby team have a particular affinity for the Italian capital.

England have never lost an RBS 6 Nations match in Rome. In fact, Italy have yet to beat the Red Rose in their 19 previous meetings.

At stake for the visitors is this year’s Championship – they’re level on six points with France and Ireland but the latter have a significantly superior points difference tally at the top of the table. All eyes will be on Paris at 1700 GMT.

England’s last three visits to the Italian capital have been close encounters – their winnings points margins have been four (2008), five (2010) and four (2012) – it’s not an easy place to play. We examine three key battles to look forward to at the Stadio Olimpico.

BILLY TWELVETREES v GONZALO GARCIA

Head coach Stuart Lancaster has always pined after a second playmaker in the number 12 shirt and the Gloucester man looks to be maturing into that role after 12 Tests.

Let’s look at the evidence from the Wales game; the cute grubber to the corner for Luther Burrell’s try, kicking more than in any other game this season, more passes than Owen Farrell and yet still did his basics.

He is the only back in the RBS 6 Nations to have recorded 40+ carries and tackles, proving his worth to the team, even if those less flashy attributes are not always appreciated by everyone.

Argentina-born Garcia has racked up 32 caps but it’s been more than four years since he scored a try and all his key markers suffer in comparison with his white-shirted rival, although he has conceded less turnovers.

JOE LAUNCHBURY v QUINTIN GELDENHUYS

England’s locks are playing like flankers – full of adventure, athleticism and ambition to maintain an expansive outlook on proceedings.

The Wasps man is pushing Mike Brown for the accolade of being England’s best performer and the eye-catching – and crucial – tap tackle on Ireland’s Dave Kearney will live long in the memory.

While putting his shift in at scrum time and in the line-out, around the park he has put in a remarkable 39 tackles and run himself into the ground.

But those tackle stats pale alongside the South African-born Geldenhuys who tops the charts with 60 tackles, completing an astonishing 95.2%, and has also proved more dynamic in attack than his young rival.

TOM WOOD v JOSH FURNO

A keen archer, Wood relishes the unsung stuff and rarely takes his eye off the target as his tackle count proved at Twickenham last week when he sacked the most Welshmen with 16, missing just one tackle.

He is England’s second top tackler, behind fellow flanker Chris Robshaw, with a tally of 45. He also boasts one of the higher success rates of 90%.

And in combination with the leadership of Courtney Lawes and throwing of Dylan Hartley, both fellow Saints, the blindside flanker is proving a profitable outlet at line-out time too.

But so is Furno, the lank-haired human dynamo who scored his debut try against Scotland from lock and has been one of Italy’s best players this spring. This is a battle to relish.

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