World Rugby

Guinness Six Nations: A Fresh Start Awaits In Rome With England Vs. Italy

Guinness Six Nations: A Fresh Start Awaits In Rome With England Vs. Italy

Italy hosts England in Round 1 of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations. Here is a full match preview, including key head-to-head matchups and a prediction.

Feb 2, 2024
Guinness Six Nations: A Fresh Start Awaits In Rome With England Vs. Italy

The Six Nations is back, and for the first time in a couple of years, England will not open its campaign by playing Scotland. 

Instead, Steve Borthwick’s men are making the trip to Rome to face an Italian side intent on proving its worth and avoiding yet another wooden spoon.

Italy has a new coach, a young side and plenty of attacking talent to disrupt England's flow, but history tells us the visitors still should be heavily favored.

Italy has faced England in 30 test matches, with 24 coming in the Six Nations, and has lost every single time. 

To make matters worse, the average margin of victory for England when facing the Azzurri in February and March is 28 points. 

Everyone knows the expectations placed on the two sides is radically different. 

England is expected to compete for the title every time, while Italy is tasked with avoiding the wooden spoon, which it has won more than any other nation.

To add insult to injury, the last time Italy hosted England in the Six Nations, the Italians failed to score a single point and lost 33-0. 

Avoiding a repeat of that performance will be pivotal for new head coach Gonzalo Quesada, who will be making his first outing in charge of Italy on Saturday.

Team News 

A calf injury to Marcus Smith has forced Steve Borthwick to rethink his halfback axis, bringing George Ford back into the limelight to play alongside Alex Mitchell, who has recovered from a leg infection.

Jamie George unsurprisingly takes over captaining duties and will oversee a pack littered with familiar faces, including the return of Sam Underhill. The new kid on the block, Ethan Roots, will be making his debut in the back row, while Fraser Dingwall will achieve the same honor when he runs out wearing the No. 12 jersey.

Three more men may yet get debuts, as the uncapped trio of Chandler Cunningham-South, Fin Smith and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso all will appear on the bench.

To counteract the class of the English 9-10 tandem, Quesada has made it a family affair, selecting both Paolo Garbisi and his brother Alessandro Garbisi as starters. The two have played together internationally before and should complement the attacking threats out wide, namely Ange Capuozzo and Tommaso Menoncello.

But for all its flair on the wings, Italy’s day will be defined by the performance of its back row, which is stacked with brawn and bulk. 

Team captain Michele Lamaro leads the charge, alongside the big ball carrier Sebastian Negri and all-round weapon Lorenzo Cannone. 

Both teams are as close to full strength as possible, which makes the Rome run-in even more exciting.  

Key Head-To-Head Matchups 

Test rugby is built around kicking, meaning the reliability of a fullback under the high ball is more crucial than ever before. Freddie Steward encapsulates that security is better than anyone and will be an important asset to England come Saturday.

The real challenge for the Leicester Tigers youngster won’t be his catching in the backfield, but rather his ability to run from deep, structure counter attacks and break tackles.

With the likes of George Furbank, Tommy Freeman and even potentially Marcus Smith ready to replace him at 15, Steward will need to show he has more to his game than just reliable hands.

Interestingly, his opposite number also will have a lot to prove come the weekend. 

Tommaso Allan is not a natural fullback. The Italian playmaker prefers to slot in at fly-half but has been bumped back to make space for Paolo Garbisi.

There’s no doubt Allan can kick well; the question is whether he can improve his positioning and general decision making when under pressure and performing in a position to which he’s less accustomed.

The need to shine is paramount for both Allan and Steward, making for an enticing head-to-head matchup.


In the absence of Smith, England will be without arguably its most creative player, which is not an easy situation to overcome. However, there’s still plenty of talent within the backline and the wider squad to overcome such drawbacks and get a win to kickstart their campaign.

Given that Italy has never beaten England in a test match, it’s hard to imagine the tide shifting, but that doesn’t mean the game won’t be closely fought. In fact, don’t be surprised if Italy pushes England right to the line, much like it did with France in the opener of last season’s tournament. England by 15.

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