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England captain Chris Robshaw says his team are entirely focussed on the tough task of beating Italy in Rome on Saturday rather than hoping to rack up a cricket score in their quest for the Six Nations title.
England go into Saturday’s final round of matches level on points with Ireland and France. Although they have a +29 points difference advantage over the French, they trail Ireland by +49.
Those sides meet in Paris in the day’s last match and should the Irish prevail, England would need an almost record score against Italy to snatch the Six Nations crown.
Their biggest winning margin against Italy is 60 points in a 67-7 success at Twickenham during the 1999 World Cup and it would take something similar to surpass the Irish if they come away from the Stade de France with a win.
But for Robshaw, piling on the points is a thing of fairytales and the more mundane task of simply winning the match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will be tough enough.
The last two encounters between the sides saw England sneak through by narrow margins, 19-15 in Rome two years ago and 18-11 at Twickenham last year.
“If there is a perception that we should win this game comfortably, that exists totally outside our camp,” Robshaw told reporters.
“Our perception inside the camp is it’s going to be a very tough game.
“Look at the England performances and scorelines the last few times we’ve played Italy, a narrow win over there in the snow two years ago and it was only seven at Twickenham last year when they cut us open for a try and we didn’t score any.
“Whether it’s a concentration thing or the mental side of the game, we’ve sometimes been flat against Italy and when you compare them now with when they came into the Six Nations in 2000 they are an outstanding unit.”
Realistically, England know they need France to prevent Ireland from winning in order to finish top of the pile.
All they can take care of is the business of winning the match and head coach Stuart Lancaster has named an unchanged side from the one that beat Wales 29-18 at Twickenham last weekend.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made only three changes to the side that started in the crushing 47-7 defeat to Ireland in Dublin, but crucially he’s been able to welcome back captain Sergio Parisse.
Their ambitions are very different to England’s as they look to avoid a first wooden spoon since 2011.
A win in Rome, coupled with a Wales victory over the Scots in Cardiff would do the trick, as long as there is a 25-points difference swing in Italy’s favour over Scotland.
But for Brunel, any win, even one that saw the side finish bottom, would at least salvage something from an otherwise disappointing campaign, particularly given they finished fourth last year after beating France and Ireland at home.
“At the start of the tournament we set ourselves the objective of winning two games,” said Brunel.
“But the result from and the performance against Scotland (a 21-20 home defeat) was a blow and left us feeling disillusioned.
“If we beat England, then we could say ‘it’s a pity because we came close against Scotland and we had a good game against the Welsh’, and so it would shed a more positive light on our campaign.
“But if we suffer a heavy defeat on Saturday, then it will be a different appraisal altogether.”
If there is one thing he can guarantee, though, it’s that his side are in for a bruising encounter.
“England is a formidable challenge, first of all because of their physicality. You know when you’ve played against England, because you feel it the next day,” he said.
“They have few weaknesses, are confident in their game and have virtually kept the same team throughout the tournament.”
Italy and England teams for a Six Nations clash at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Saturday (kick-off 1230 GMT):
Luke McLean; Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto; Luciano Orquera, Tito Tebaldi; Sergio Parisse (capt), Robert Barbieri, Joshua Furno; Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys; Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matias Aguero
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Michele Rizzo, Alberto De Marchi, George Biagi, Paul Derbyshire, Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan, Andrea Masi
Mike Brown; Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (capt), Tom Wood; Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury; David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Tom Johnson, Lee Dickson, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FRA)