When the final whistle blew in Cardiff it was a glorious moment filled with euphoria and jubilation, England had conquered the odds and their Millennium Stadium demons in stunning fashion and had delivered the best possible start to the year. However the fact of the matter is that it was just a moment and in order for it to have true meaning for this squad Chris Robshaw and his men must deliver again this weekend and they must do so with some style.
The challenge that England face playing against Italy at Twickenham is completely different to Friday night's for the intensity of the rivalry between the two nations is less and the quality of the opposition is less. In saying that Italy are not as proficient as Wales is not being dis-respectful to the Azzurri, it is merely stating fact, numerically the World Ranking's confirm this. I was keen to understand the focus areas and key messages that Stuart has delivered to his side this week and ask him to articulate them during today's press conference;
'Well, I think obviously starting the game, is an area of improvement for us without a doubt having gone 10-0 and putting ourselves in a difficult position. We need to make sure that we start better and don't put ourselves under pressure, so that has been a big talking point this week. Also building on the discipline that we showed throughout the game, particularly in the second half we gave virtually no opportunities away for Leigh Halfpenny to extend that lead and then our intensity in our ball carrying and the simple things done well, is the over-riding message for the players this week.'
In previous years, right about now, I would probably be reaching into the cliche box and saying that 'this fixture is a potential banana skin' however with this group of players and coming off the back of last weekend's performance I can hold my hand on my heart and say that I don't believe that this is the case in 2015. The reasons are that this England side fully understand that one strong result does not make you a World Class side and they know that every single time that they step onto the field they have to progress and take their game up a level for that is the reality of this, a World Cup year.
On Saturday afternoon England must deliver 80 minutes of proficient and intense rugby, they must execute their game plan with pinpoint accuracy from the first whistle and they must be absolutely ruthless. James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola need to pacify Sergio Parisse's influence at the breakdown for he alone has the ability to disrupt proceedings. Italy's two tries in two minutes against Ireland highlight two key points; first that you cannot switch off for a moment against the Azzurri and second that their backs are more than capable of exploiting weak defensive lines. England must focus and they must deliver their basics brilliantly. Up front, the onus is on Graham Rowntree's forwards to continue to dominate at the set piece in order to provide the secure platform for that beautifully balanced back line. The key relationships in the half backs and the centres are still be relatively fresh however the base level they showcased against Wales can only be built on and in my opinion this is one of, if not the most dynamic back line that we have seen from England in recent years.
On the surface this weekend doesn't have the overt intensity of Round 1 and England versus Wales however the pressure remains firmly placed on Chris Robshaw and his side's shoulders. They are favourites and they are expected to beat Italy, this weekend is about execution and development. My wish for this group of players is to go out and stamp their authority on the year with a performance that blows Italy off the park and that states very loudly and clearly; 'We are England Rugby and this is our year.'
England; 15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 1 Joe Marler 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Dan Cole 4 David Attwood 5 George Kruis 6 James Haskell 7 Chris Robshaw (C) 8 Billy Vunipola Replacements; 16 Tom Youngs 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Tom Croft 20 Nick Easter 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Danny Cipriani 23 Billy Twelvetrees
Italy; 15 Luke McLean 14 Leonardo Sarto 13 Luca Morisi 12 Andrea Masi 11 Giovanbattista Venditti 10 Kelly Haimona 9 Edoardo Gori 1 Alberto De Marchi 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 4 George Biagi 5 Marco Bortolami 6 Francesco Minto 7 Mauro Bergamasco 8 Sergio Parisse Replacements:16 Andrea Manici 17 Matias Aguero 18 Dario Chistolini 19 Josh Furno 20 Samuela Vunisa 21 Guglielmo Palazzani 22 Tommaso Allan 23 Giulio Bisegni