England v Italy: Team selection gives Italy chance with handicap
England have never lost in 17 career meetings with Italy and there seems little chance of this winning run ending, given that Stuart Lancaster’s men are 1/100 to triumph again at Twickenham to take them one step away from completing a Six Nations Grand Slam.
The Italians have shown the depths of their improvement in this year’s competition and it would be foolish to underestimate them, but this was potentially the game for Lancaster to play some fringe players.
One such option was Billy Vunipola at number eight, but not only has Lancaster decided against this move, Vunipola has been replaced on the bench by Tom Croft, despite Croft having only recently returned from a long-term neck injury.
This means England effectively have three players in the squad who are at their best as a blindside flanker.
The use of Tom Wood and the probable introduction of Croft leave England potentially short in the ball-carrying department at eight, particularly with Ben Morgan injured, and with tries scarce at present from the back three, alongside no Owen Farrell to kick penalties, Italy could keep this fairly tight.
Italy to win with a 32-point start looks pretty much banker material at 8/15, while it may pay to take the 6/5 on offer that England fail to win by 23 points or more, especially as Italy can welcome back Sergio Parisse.
With England’s back three contributing one try between them in six games, this does open up some value in the try-scoring markets.
Manu Tuilagi is hard to oppose at 5/6 to go over at any time in the 80 minutes after announcing his comeback from injury with a try against France, while Toby Flood, in for the injured Farrell, has some appeal at 9/4 in the same market.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date