England head coach Stuart Lancaster looks set to name an unchanged team for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy in Rome.
England’s final fixture of the Championship – the first of three on the traditional ‘super Saturday’ finish – is a points grab at the Stadio Olimpico as the red rose attempt to overhaul Ireland in their quest for a first title under Lancaster.
However, Leicester and British and Irish Lions centre Manu Tuilagi is fit once again after a six-month lay-off with a torn pectoral muscle. Also, would make suitable opposition for the 20-year-old fly-half George Ford to make his first start?
6 Nations Table:
Pos Pld Pts
1 Ireland 4 6
2 England 4 6
3 France 4 6
4 Wales 4 4
5 Scotland 4 2
6 Itay 4 0
Though, should Lancaster – a head coach famous for his number of substitutions a game – risk the introduction of new players when an enormous point’s victory is desperately needed to keep their title hopes alive?
But since the hysteria of Twickenham on Sunday and England’s third straight victory to seal the Triple Crown, Lancaster has hinted to an unchanged XV; stating Owen Farrell’s virtuoso performance in Sunday’s 29-18 victory over Wales demands his re-selection.
If Tuilagi is involved, it will be among the replacements.
"We haven't met as coaches yet to discuss selection, but Manu is definitely an option for us," Lancaster said.
"It would be hard to change the starting XV on the back of that performance.
"Owen played exceptionally well in every way, shape and form against Wales.
"I've looked again at his performance and his defence, goal kicking and game management were was outstanding.
"His decision-making and calmness under pressure were excellent. It would be a tough call on Owen to leave him out.
"George has great potential and opportunities will come his way.
"I've pencilled in at least one game he's definitely going to start, if not two. His chance will come."
Returning to the 6 Nations, though, and it is Ireland who are currently in the driving seat to win the title knowing that victory over France in Paris in the climax to the Six Nations would all but guarantee their success due to their commanding points difference of plus 49.
England's only chance of success is to swamp the winless Azzurri with tries, but Lancaster refuses to enter Rome with any ambition other than winning.
"In games like Italy you have to earn the right first and foremost," Lancaster said.
"One of the reasons we got the win this weekend and also against Ireland was because our foundation was right.
"Our defence and set piece were good. You have to make sure those foundations are in place first before you start thinking too far ahead.
"Last year it was 18-11 at Twickenham. And the year before it was even closer than that, so we won't be taking it lightly."