Italy fear thrashing from Tuilagi and England

Italy coach Jacques Brunel admitted he fears the twin threat of a rampaging Manu Tuilagi and an on-fire England team that could put his out-of-sorts players to the sword at Twickenham on Sunday.

Although beginning their campaign in fine fashion with a 23-18 win over France, Italy come into the game against the Six Nations leaders on the back of two poor showings in Scotland (10-34) and at home to Wales (9-26).

Brunel knows that the Azzurri face their toughest task of the competition in the trip to west London and says that if they repeat their last two performances, they could be in for an embarrassing afternoon.

“We had a good start (to the competition) but then we were disappointing in two other matches, in different ways, in our game management,” said the Frenchman, a former coach of Perpignan and assistant in the French national set-up.

“In our last match we didn’t produce the energy we can do, that’s not what we expect of our team.

“In that way, Twickenham will be an interesting challenge, to see what kind of character we’ll display.

“If we’re not at the top of our game physically, if we don’t have the desire to face up to the English, it’ll be tough and we could concede a lot of points.”

Of particular concern to Brunel is England’s 110kg Samoan-born centre Tuilagi, a try-scorer in their 23-13 victory over France last time out, although he says he’s not planned anything special to stop the Leicester back.

“Yes (we have), we won’t let him out on the pitch, in fact we’ll lock the changing rooms,” joked Brunel.

“Seriously, though, no-one has yet stopped him, he’s very good in one-on-ones.

“Even (France’s 118kg) Mathieu Bastareaud, who’s very powerful, had troubles. We have to work as a team and double up on him sometimes when we need to. We need to defend as a team.

“But we can’t look to just stop Tuilagi, England have many other possibilities. The other centre, (Brad) Barritt plays an even bigger role in their penetration.”

Perhaps with that twin threat in mind, Brunel has restored Argentine-born centre Gonzalo Garcia to the starting line-up for the first time in this Six Nations.

Under Brunel’s predecessor Nick Mallett, Garcia was an automatic choice, ostentatiously for his defensive qualities.

He is one of seven changes to the Italy side with five of those coming in the pack.

The most noticeable is the return of captain Sergio Parisse at number eight after his ban for a red card while playing for club side Stade Francais was reduced on a appeal from 30 days to 20 days.

Brunel has brought back flanker Robert Barbieri at open-side and has changed both locks with Joshua Furno and Quintin Geldenhuys replacing Francesco Minto and Antonio Pavanello.

Alberto De Marchi comes into the front row with loose-head prop Andrea Lo Cicero dropping down to the bench ahead of his expected record 102nd cap for Italy, which will take him past the 101 mark he shares with former scrum-half Alessandro Troncon.

The only other change sees Zebre fly-half Luciano Orquera take over from Australian-born Kris Burton.

Italy (15-1)

Andrea Masi; Giovanbattista Venditti, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Luke McLean; Luciano Orquera, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (capt), Robert Barbieri, Alessandro Zanni; Joshua Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys; Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Alberto De Marchi

Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Andrea Lo Cicero, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Francesco Minto, Simone Favaro, Tobias Botes, Tommaso Benvenuti

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