Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Mike Egerton
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Vunipola applauds bonding as England target Italy win
“I respond to the love and compassion Eddie shows the boys, me especially. He is very personable.”

ENGLAND NO 8 Billy Vunipola has applauded a more relaxed approach to team bonding that has kept World Cup flops England on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam ahead of Sunday’s clash with Italy in Rome.

England’s failure to get past the World Cup group stages last autumn prompted a change in management and philosophy that saw the Red Rose begin this year’s Six Nations with a battling 15-9 win over Scotland last week.

Although Vunipola was widely applauded after a man-of-the-match display at Murrayfield, the 23-year-old credits new coach Eddie Jones with instilling a new, more sociable approach to rebuilding England’s confidence.

Vunipola says England are benefiting from being allowed to socialise more than under the previous regime run by Stuart Lancaster, when players were told not to drink.

“I respond to the love and compassion Eddie shows the boys, me especially. He is very personable,” Vunipola said.

“We have had a few bonding sessions. It’s important for me to know what someone else is about, what motivates them, whether that be their family or scoring tries.

“It works better when you have a relationship with someone rather than just rocking up and playing for England.”

Australian Jones is expected to reshuffle England’s pack for the visit to the Eternal City after releasing Gloucester openside flanker Matt Kvesic and Wasps centre Elliot Daly from his training squad earlier this week.

At the same time, he included Saracens flanker Maro Itoje and fellow back-row forward Josh Beaumont of Sale.

Jones hinted England may require greater speed up front, which could open the door to Harlequins back-rower Jack Clifford, who made his debut from the bench at Murrayfield.

“The playing conditions will be considerably different. They will be warmer, a faster pitch, different referee so I am anticipating we will be able to get our attack going a lot quicker than we did against Scotland,” said Jones.

“I’ve said it’s going to be a faster game so we could pick a faster pack.”

Come Sunday afternoon, England’s thoughts will be focused on how to beat a promising-looking Italy side.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made only two changes from the side that gave France a scare in a 23-21 defeat at the Stade de France last week.

Wing Andrea Buondonno will replace David Odiete, who suffered a left ankle sprain, while flanker Robert Barbieri comes in for wing Leonardo Sarto, who is still out with a muscle problem.

A decision will be taken on George Biagi, depending on his recovery from a muscular injury.

One of Italy’s big surprises last week was young fly-half Carlo Canna, who on his tournament debut scored one of Italy’s two tries, made the conversion and finished the game with a penalty and a drop goal to his name as the Azzurri came close to causing an upset.

It prompted praise from Jones, but the 23-year-old Zebre player said: “It’s nice to receive compliments but maybe the tactic of (Eddie) Jones is to put me under pressure ahead of Sunday’s match.

“More than the points I scored or the compliments I received, I’m thinking about the two kicks and the penalty I missed: in my position, that’s unacceptable.”

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Canna expects a completely different team to show up, and has called on Italy to make the necessary adjustments to stop Jones’s men in their tracks.

“The France game is over, we paid a small price for our inexperience and that made the difference to the final score. Now we’re working hard to give England some food for thought,” added Canna.

“We’re facing a totally different team from last week: one that, in the first two phases, we’ll try to use the pack to push the team forward and open up the game.

“We have to be solid in the tackles, much more than we were against France.”

© AFP 2016

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