TikTok Women's Six Nations Preview: England v Italy

Kelsey Clifford came off the bench at Kingston Park to make her Red Roses debut
Kelsey Clifford came off the bench at Kingston Park to make her Red Roses debut

England will look to make it two wins from two 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations games when they host Italy at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.

The Red Roses stormed to a 74-0 win against the Azzurre in Round 2 last year, but the visitors will take a great deal of encouragement from their 22-12 loss to France last weekend.

Having been beaten 39-6 in 2022, Italy were able to push Les Bleues to the absolute limit at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, before Simon Middleton's side ran out comfortable 58-7 winners against Scotland.

While England are approaching the end of the Middleton era, Italy are the start of something new under the stewardship of head coach Giovanni Raineri.

And although Italy have never beaten the Red Roses, he will be hoping to push another of the Championship's best sides all the way in Northampton.

Team news

Sarah Hunter's retirement means there is a significant change to Middleton's back row.

Delaney Burns will make her England debut at lock, allowing Zoe Aldcroft to move to No.8.

Poppy Cleall will miss this match due to injury, meaning Cath O’Donnell will complete a new-look second row.

However, there are no changes in the front row with Mackenzie Carson, Amy Cokayne and Sarah Bern all set to return for their second game of the Championship.

Marlie Packer was named Player of the Round for Round 1, and she is back at flanker, captaining the side, alongside Sadia Kabeya and unchanged half-backs Lucy Packer and Holly Aitchison.

In the centres, Tatyana Heard replaces Amber Reed inside of Lagi Tuima, but the back three will remain the same with Abby Dow, Jess Breach and Claudia MacDonald all set to start once again.

Emily Robinson looks likely to make her international debut from the bench.

Raineri has made three changes to Italy's starting XV following last week's defeat against France.

For Italy, Sofia Stefan moves to the wing, with Sara Barattin set for her first start of the Championship at scrum-half.

Michela Sillari and Beatrice Rigoni make up an unchanged centre partnership for this one, but Alyssa D'Inca drops out of the squad.

Silvia Turani will also miss this match, meaning Gaia Maris will join Lucia Gai and Vittoria Vecchini in the front row.

The final change sees Valeria Fedrighi replaced by Sara Tounesi in the engine room, with the back row set to remain the same.

What they said

England head coach Middleton said: “Delaney Burns has impressed us immensely. Her lineout and set-piece understanding is strong, and she deserves her start.

“Emily Robinson has been a prominent part of our programme for a good period. Injury meant she has had to bide her time, but she’s been excellent since she’s come in during the Six Nations and we look forward to seeing how she fares.

“Giovanni Raineri and his staff will have their Italy team well prepared for this Six Nations, and that was clearly reflected in last weekend’s strong opening performance when they lost 22-12 to World Cup semi-finalists France.

“We are naturally gutted to lose Poppy Cleall and Amber Reed to injury but are confident they’ll return before the end of this tournament.”

Italy head coach Raineri said: “We will face one of the strongest teams in the world of rugby. This week we have work on our game, analysing what didn't work in the last match.

"We will look to show a better version of ourselves focusing on our own performance."

Stat attack

  • England have won all 16 of their previous TikTok Women’s Six Nations matches against Italy, including their most recent by a margin of 74 points (74-0), their biggest-ever win against Italy in the Championship – England have prevented Italy from scoring a single point in three of their last four encounters

  • England have won each of their last 20 games in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, the longest-ever winning run of any side in the Championship and have conceded seven points or fewer in 11 of their last 13 games, including five shutouts

  • England have won each of their last nine second round fixtures in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, with each of their last three such wins having come by margins of over 50 points and seeing the Red Roses concede just three points in total

Fantasy watch

Marlie Packer showed precisely why she is the must-have player of the 2023 TikTok Women's Six Nations Fantasy Rugby in Round 1.

The Red Roses back row registered almost 40 points more than her nearest rival on the opening weekend, racking up a remarkable score of 123.4.

Simply put, to stand any chance of winning your Fantasy Rugby league this year, you will need Packer in your side.

From an Italian perspective, D'Inca's absence means Michela Sillari was the Fantasy Rugby star of Round 1.

The centre was a menace in attack and defence during the Round 1 clash with France, making 51 metres with the ball, two steals at the breakdown and ending the game with a total of 44.2 points.

That was more than any other Italian player other than D'Inca, so keep an eye on her in Round 2 and the rest of the Championship.

The teams

England: 15. Abby Dow, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Lagi Tuima, 12. Tatyana Heard, 11. Claudia MacDonald, 10. Holly Aitchison, 9. Lucy Packer; 1. Mackenzie Carson, 2. Amy Cokayne, 3. Sarah Bern, 4. Cath O’Donnell, 5. Delaney Burns, 6. Sadia Kabeya

7. Marlie Packer (C), 8. Zoe Aldcroft

Replacements: 16. Lark Davies, 17. Liz Crake, 18. Kelsey Clifford, 19. Sarah Beckett, 20. Emily Robinson, 21. Ella Wyrwas, 22. Sarah McKenna, 23. Emma Sing

Italy: 15. Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi, 14. Aura Muzzo, 13. Michela Sillari, 12. Beatrice Rigoni, 11. Sofia Stefan, 10. Veronica Madia, 9. Sara Barattin; 1. Gaia Maris, 2. Vittoria Vecchini, 3. Lucia Gai, 4. Sara Tounesi, 5. Giordana Duca, 6. Francesca Sgorbini, 7. Giada Franco, 8. Elisa Giordano (c)

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