I was very pleased by many aspects of England's round one win over Scotland. Their energy and commitment were first rate, there was a new desire about them which is very encouraging for the future and, of course, winning at Murrayfield for the first time in eight years is something all Red Rose fans were delighted by.
But I can understand why bettors aren't getting carried away by the result and current odds of 6.0 on England in the Six Nations winner market is fair. Stuart Lancaster has obviously told his players to go out and smash opponents. They had an extraordinarily high tackle count at Murrayfield and they displayed immense physical strength to keep the hosts out. But they were playing against an indecisive attack that, on current form, couldn't buy a try.
Owen Farrell showed heaps of commitment, kicking crucial points and tackling players twice his size. But he stood too close to the ruck and, against less profligate opposition, such naivety will be punished. England are playing with a less structured defence than in the past but, while enthusiasm will get you a long way, if England give up possession in Paris they will lose by 20 points. They need to control the ball better so that they can build pressure. Remember, their only try was a result of Dan Parks' career-ending error.
England have never failed to win in Rome but facing a good Italy team at the Stadio de Olimpico will be tougher than playing at the Stadio Flaminio ever was. There will be 80,000 Azzurri fans cheering the team on, Jacques Brunel's men will be suffused with national pride, tears flowing down their faces at the anthem.
This Italian side are about than passion though. I was impressed by how they went about the daunting task of playing France in round one and thought they were unlucky to lose by such a big margin. Italy managed to control possession for extended periods and, while they still struggle to break opponents down, I do think that Tommaso Benvenuti in particular will provide England's defence with a stern test. Up front, Sergio Parisse, whose class has never been in doubt, is complemented by Robert Barbieri and Italy's back row is at least the equal of visitors.
An England win is by no means the gimme that the market suggests. Just as several England players hail from Saracens, the same is true of the Italy team and Treviso. The two clubs met in the Heineken Cup last month with Sarries winning 26-20 so that result could provide pointers.
France lost here last season and, if I was a braver bettor, I'd back Italy to pull off another shock. England won 17-12 in Rome two years ago and I anticipate a similarly tight match. A start of 7.5 points would have given them victory then and I believe it will suffice at the Olimpico. I'm also going to back Italy to be ahead at the break before England edge them in the second-half.
2pts Back Italy + 7.5 points @ 2.08
2pts Back Italy/England @ 8.2 in the Half-time/Full-time market
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