We look ahead to England’s opening match of the 2024 Guinness Men’s Six Nations with our Italy vs England prediction and preview.
History isn’t everything but it’s hard to overlook the fact that Italy are yet to beat England in a men’s Test match. They’ve lost all 30 of their clashes so far, including 24 meetings in the Guinness Men’s Six Nations, and in recent history the Azzurri haven’t even really got close. The last time there was a single-digit points difference at the final whistle was back in 2013 (18-11); in the ensuing 11 fixtures, the average differential has been 31 points.
The sides had contrasting fortunes at the Rugby World Cup. England overperformed with a third-place finish while Italy crashed out at the pool stage thanks to two 50+ point thrashings against France and New Zealand. The Italians will have known the chances of escaping their pool were slim (5% according to our pre-tournament predictions), but the nature of their capitulation will have shocked the system more than a shot of grappa at the breakfast table.
At the 2023 Six Nations England excelled at the set-piece, achieving the best success rates at the scrum (96%) and lineout (92%). They also had a prolific maul, averaging the most maul metres per game and metres per maul, while crossing for three tries in this fashion, something that new captain Jamie George will no doubt be keen to continue.
Kicking was obviously a key tactic for England too as head coach Steve Borthwick set the tone for his coaching tenure. They made more kicks and notched up more kicking metres than any other side in the Championship.
Somewhat surprisingly, Italy were arguably the most dominant side in the collision last year. They made the joint most dominant tackles (55 alongside Wales) and the most dominant carries (181) of anyone in the 2023 Championship.
The Azzurri’s rucking was also top of the class. A competition-high 69% of their rucks were completed in under three seconds, with their average speed of three seconds per attacking ruck also the best of any side. Italy’s confidence to carry and success when they do so is a big asset, although they’ll need to do it even better to improve their ability to create and convert points-scoring opportunities.
This lack of scoring efficiency punished Italy hard last campaign, where they finished with their eighth consecutive wooden spoon. They only scored 1.7 points per visit to the opposition 22 in the 2023 Six Nations, a ranking that only the faltering Welsh fared worse in (1.6). They were also slightly predictable in attack with a competition-high 92% of their play hitting the open side while 60% of the time they spread the ball wider than 10 metres, enabling a drift defence to mop them up and secure turnover ball.
Both sides struggled in this regard with the English conceding the most turnovers per game (14.8) and Italy the second most (14.4).
England’s lack of attacking cohesion was the main talking point of their 2023 campaign. Lots of kicking but not much penetration behind the opposition defence was the order of the day. In fact, in 2023 they ranked last or second last for metres gained, breaks, defenders beaten, tackle evasion, gainline success and 22 entries.
The worst rates for goal-kicking (62%) and tackle success (83%) didn’t help their cause either. It’s safe to say England have plenty improve on in this campaign.
There could be five players making their debut for England this weekend. Fraser Dingwall and Ethan Roots both start with potential further debuts for Chandler Cunningham-South, Fin Smith and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso from the bench. They all have a lot to prove as they attempt to stake a claim for the rest of the championship and beyond.
Jamie George is set to captain England this year. The Saracens hooker has a 92% lineout success rate in his rugby union Six Nations career, the best rate of any player to attempt 100+ throws in the Championship. He’ll no doubt be keen to lead by example and put in a standout performance, and maybe even help himself to a try or two.
Italy meanwhile have a youthful side with the dominant Tommaso Menoncello slotting back in at centre. Menoncello will be looking to pick up from where he left off before getting cruelly injured ahead of the 2023 World Cup. He was one of just five players to play 240 minutes and manage both gainline success and dominant carry rates of 50%+.
In the backfield, Tommaso Allan (153) will be looking to overtake Diego Dominguez (162) as Italy’s top points scorer in the Six Nations. Ten points would tick that one off while 11 points would see him reach 500 in his Test career overall. One try would see him become the Azzurri’s leading try scorer in the Championship (currently 7, level with Mirco Bergamasco and Sergio Parisse).
Danilo Fischetti is another key player for Italy. In the 2023 Championship, he made the most dominant tackles (10) by any player and also beat the joint-most defenders of any prop (8, same as Ellis Genge).
Italy vs England Six Nations Prediction
Ahead of kick-off, the Opta supercomputer expects England’s dominant head-to-head record against Italy to continue, giving them an 85.8% chance of winning in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The model sees them as strong favourites, projecting they will win comfortably by a 20-point margin.
Italy vs England Lineups
Alessandro Garbisi starts at scrum-half inside brother Paolo in Gonzalo Quesada‘s Italy Six Nations squad.
Italy: Tommaso Allan, Ange Capuozzo, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Monty Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Alessandro Garbisi; Danilo Fischetti, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Lorenzo Cannone
Replacements: Giacomo Nicotera, Mirco Spagnolo, Giosue Zilocchi, Andrea Zambonin, Edoardo Iachizzi, Manuel Zuliani, Stephen Varney, Lorenzo Pani
Flanker Ethan Roots and inside-centre Fraser Dingwall will make their international debuts against Italy, while fly-half Marcus Smith is ruled out with a calf injury. They are also of course without Owen Farrell as well.
England: Freddie Steward, Tommy Freeman, Henry Slade, Fraser Dingwall, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Alex Mitchell; Joe Marler, Jamie George (captain), Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Ethan Roots, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl
Replacements: Theo Dan, Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, Alex Coles, Chandler Cunningham-South, Danny Care, Fin Smith, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
Other Six Nations Week 1 Fixtures:
Wales vs Scotland, Cardiff