Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It Might Not Be Pretty but England Have Got to Put the Boot into Italy; EXCLUSIVE

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It Might Not Be Pretty but England Have Got to Put the Boot into Italy; EXCLUSIVE

Article excerpt

Byline: Jason Leonard England's most capped player

ANY England fans thinking about a potential Grand Slam after this first round of RBS Six Nations matches are living in cloud cuckoo land because this is going to be the one of the most compelling and tightest tournaments we have seen for some time.

England came into this championship as favourites because of the fact they have three successive home games against Italy, France and Scotland which they should be able to win.

However, on the evidence we have seen, those home games will be extremely challenging with Italy's performance against Ireland, who were lucky to come away with a win thanks to Ronan O'Gara's cooly taken drop goal, serving as a warning to England as they prepare to face the Azzurri at Twickenham on Saturday.

In Paris, we saw a French side that were, in effect, taken to pieces in November by Australia -- conceding 50 points -- open their Six Nations campaign with a try against Scotland within two minutes and then the Scots fought their way back with three tries of their own, but still lost. I am yet to be convinced about France because the Scots gifted them three tries and while Les Bleus finished those chances off brilliantly, would they have been so confident in a much tighter contest?

Andy Robinson is getting a good Scotland side together and they came back well in Paris and will be a real handful if they can cut down those mistakes.

England's last win in Cardiff came in 2003 and we claimed the Grand Slam before heading to Australia for a Rugby World Cup triumph but that side never looked any further than the next game and I know Martin Johnson will be thinking the same. Why bother talking about a Slam when you are just one game into the championship? Having boosted their confidence by beating Wales, England now need to take care of Italy or all that hard work in Cardiff will have been wasted. England hit the ground running against a competitive Welsh side and in footballing terms, went away from home and got an encouraging 1-0 win.

England showed tremendous maturity and composure in the wonderful atmosphere of the Millennium Stadium and we saw young flanker Tom Wood bring his excellent club form into the Test arena as, in the past, that hasn't always been the case with debutants.

Other players also rose to the occasion and I was particularly impressed with Toby Flood, who produced a flawless kicking game and confirmed his maturity with a very good all-round performance at No10.

Flood's game management was very impressive and under his direction, England looked like a team who were in the driving seat all the way through, although Johnno, his coaches and players have been quick to point out this was a far from a perfect performance.

There is a lot of work still to do and that is exciting for everyone involved with this England team and we want to see these improvements against Italy. …

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