ROME, Feb 3, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – England coach Eddie Jones wants Ben Te’o to lead a “brutal and absolutely ruthless” effort when his side launch their Six Nations title defence against Italy in Rome on Sunday.
England may have won all 23 of their previous Tests against Italy but Jones has urged them to leave nothing to chance.
Te’o will be making his first England appearance in nearly a year after being selected at outside centre.
British and Irish Lions midfielder Te’o, a powerful ball-carrier, has displaced Jonathan Joseph, more of a traditional ‘running’ centre, after recovering from a severe ankle injury that ruled him out of England’s November series.
The match will be the first time Te’o has played since October, with the New Zealand-born rugby league convert partnering Owen Farrell in midfield.
“Ben will add a different dimension at 13 for us,” Jones told reporters after announcing his side on Friday. “We want him to hit the line hard, that’s what he’s good at. For a big man he’s got footwork. So hit the line hard.”
The former Australian and Japan coach, bidding for a 23rd win in 24 Tests as England boss, added: “That’s how we want to play against Italy — a really physical game and set the tone for the tournament.
“We want to be brutal and absolutely ruthless.”
– ‘Fox-hunting’ –
Italy frustrated England with their ‘no-ruck’ ploy at Twickenham last year and Jones is backing Te’o to make a better job of dealing with any more tactical trickery from Azzurri coach Conor O’Shea.
“We played him against Italy last year and the fox got him. The fox got him big time. So he wants to go fox-hunting this week,” said Jones.
Dylan Hartley remains as England captain, with the hooker winning his 90th cap.
Despite injuries that have cost them several first-choice players, England will be huge favourites to start their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright Championship title with a victory.
Sam Simmonds, an impressive ball-carrier with Premiership champions Exeter starts at No.8 after injuries ruled out both Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes.
Courtney Lawes — best known as a lock — is at blindside flanker, with former England captain Chris Robshaw on the openside.
Maro Itoje starts in the second row alongside Joe Launchbury.
“The Six Nations is physical, a massive physical contest,” explained Jones. “It is a massive set-piece contest. You’ve got to have that combative mindset. And that all starts on Sunday.
“Italy play off mistakes, they hustle and bustles, create opportunities so we want to set the tone early.”
Italy face the perennial problem of trying to make sure they are not beaten before they go out on the pitch, although an England sie featuring several untested combinations could give them fresh hope that an upset is possible this time.
By selecting a team featuring seven Six Nations debutants, Italy coach O’Shea has a group ofr players who have not been worn down by repeated failure.
New Zealand-born lock Dean Budd is in a pack featuring flankers Sebastian Negri, born in Zimbabwe, and Renato Giammarioli as well as prop Simone Ferrari.
Full-back Matteo Minozzi and centre pairing Tommaso Boni and Tommaso Castello also have no Six Nations experience.
As if that were not enough upheaval, former Ireland fullback O’Shea has also selected a new half-back pairing of Marcello Violi and Tommaso Allan, with the experienced Edoardo Gori and Carlo Canna relegated to the bench.
But whether the newcomers add fresh self-belief remains to be seen.
“Maybe on Sunday after the match it will be a difficult evening, but we prepare to win matches and the wonderful thing about sport is that anything can happen,” said O’Shea.
England ran out 36-15 winners at Twickenham last year after three late tries but only after Italy threatened an upset.
“A year ago, 12 minutes from the end England were winning 17-15 — we’ll see how it goes this time,” said O’Shea.