Italian props disappointed with English injury withdrawals

Far from being bouyed, Italy props Martin Castrogiovanni and Andrea Lo Cicero said they were disappointed by England’s front row problems ahead of the teams’ Six Nations clash at Rome’s Stadio Flaminio on Sunday.

Speaking on Wednesday at a press gathering in Rome, both men claimed they were still expecting England to be as tough a proposition as ever despite the absence of loosehead prop Andrew Sheridan and the possible absence of tighthead and captain Phil Vickery, who pulled out of England training on Thursday but has still travelled to Rome.

Vickery limped off the pitch with a calf injury and is the latest in a series of injury problems for England, who have already lost five first-choice players — centre Mike Tindall, Sheridan, wing David Strettle, plus flankers Lewis Moody and Tom Rees.

Uncapped Bristol prop Jason Hobson has been called up as cover while Bath’s Matt Stevens would most likely be promoted off the bench should the captain not recover in time.

But Italy are not celebrating.

“It would be a big loss for England because Vickery is the captain and Sheridan is considered to be one of the best loosehead props in the world,” said tighthead Castrogiovanni who would have faced Sheridan but will now face Tim Payne instead.

“For us it’s good (that they are out) but I like to play against the best to see how good I am. If Sheridan is not on the field, I’m not happy because I want to see how good I am.” Lo Cicero said it makes little difference who steps onto the field for England as the country is awash with top drawer players and he doesn’t expect to be at an advantage.

“There’s no differnce. Sheridan and Vickery are good players but whoever comes in are also good players,” he said.

“I always try to put pressure on my opposite number, whoever I play against. We come here to fight in a one-on-one battle before we even think about the collective struggle.” England are the only Six Nations team that Italy have never beaten, although they have yet to beat either Ireland or France in the championship itself.

The newest comers to the European rugby top table have been getting closer and closer to England, though, since the 80-23 drubbing they suffered in 2001 at Twickenham.

Last year they lost by only 13 points, 20-7, and the last time they played England in Rome it was almost as close: they lost 31-16.

And with England’s second half collapse at home to Wales last week fresh in the memories – England lost 26-19 after leading 19-6 early in the second period – many are predicting a first success for Italy, who were beaten only 16-11 by Ireland in Dublin in their first match of the tournament.

But Italy are not getting carried away.

“I don’t think England are struggling. They lost week but they know what they need to do to beat us,” said Castrogiovanni.

“They have all the pressure on them, they need to win to relieve that pressure and they will do their utmost to win here.

“They dominated the first half against Wales and it was only in the last 20 minutes that they lost concentration.” Lo Cicero is also refusing to read too much into England’s defeat to Wales.

“We saw that last year France were horrible in their first match but they went on to win the title,” he added.

Sapa-AFP –

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