England coach Eddie Jones says he has been impressed by the mentality of Ben Te'o
England head coach Eddie Jones says his side are aware of the fact the “spotlight” of the rugby world is on them to improve as they head to Rome on Sunday in the Six Nations.
England are chasing a third successive Six Nations triumph and are heavily fancied to win well at the Stadio Olimpico.
The last time they faced Italy in the 2017 Six Nations at Twickenham, however, players and management alike were bamboozled by Italy’s ploy to negate conventional offside lines by neglecting to form a ruck.
Italy vs England
February 4, 2018, 5:25pm
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Jones admits his group understand the pressure that is on them, both to perform and improve.
“I hope we play well,” Jones said at his Friday press conference. “Every time we get an opportunity to train and get better, we do.
“If you want to be the best team in the world, there’s an opportunity every day to get better. That’s our target.
“We haven’t had a full team together for the past 12 months. They’ve been on Lions duty. In November we didn’t pick from the full complement. This is an opportunity on Sunday to ratchet the gears up. We’re excited about it.
“Italy have improved, Conor [O’Shea] is doing an outstanding job there. They’ve got that fox mentality where they do clever things in the game.
“They’ve got some good young players. I’m impressed by [Tomasso] Castello and the young half-back [Marcello] Violi. They have a seasoned international in [Edoardo] Gori to come off the bench.
“Everyone in Europe is fitter. Especially over the last 12-months. The intensity is a lot higher. Italy are one of those countries.
“Italy are traditionally strong. The spotlight is clearly on us to get better. But our focus is on us and that we dictate what happens there. We’ve prepared well for that.”
Jones has selected Exeter Chiefs No 8 Sam Simmonds to start for his Six Nations debut, while Worcester centre Ben Te’o has earned the nod over Bath’s Jonathan Joseph at outside-centre.
Te’o has not played for four months due to an arm injury, while Joseph has started nine of England’s last Six Nations matches and been a key performer under Jones. His reasoning?
“We picked our best 23,” Jones said “We had some really good training sessions and we want to be ruthless and brutal on Sunday.
“Te’o trained really well. He did a lot of work by himself which has been well publicised. His attitude is great. He’s gonna add a different dimension at 13 for us.
“I want him to hit the line hard, that’s what he’s good at. For a big man he’s got good footwork. That’s how we want to play against Italy, we want to play a really physical game and set the tone for the tournament.”
Backrow Simmonds only made his debut for England in November against Argentina, and made his first start against Samoa the same month. A game and performance Jones claims not to remember.
“I forgot about it actually, I forgot he started against them [Samoa],” he said. “I just want him to run hard and tackle hard. It’s pretty simple.
“The good things he does against Exeter, I want him to do those good things for us.”