Unfortunately for Italy, this is the match up of the 6 Nations they are least likely to win. Statistically, and leaving the arguments about injuries to one side, England are the strongest side in the tournament and Italy the weakest.
Our model gives the Italians little chance of winning, despite the match being played at home in Rome. Currently the forecast is 8 – 35 to England, with the Italians having just a 4.9% chance of victory.
Italy and England have met 23 times with England utterly dominant, winning all 23. Italy have run the English close a number of times however, with a 5 and a 4 point loss in Rome in 2010 and 2012 respectively. They also nearly recorded an away victory in 2013 when a battling English defence fought to keep out a resurgent Italian side in the dying moments of the game. That match finished 18 – 11 to England.
A particular quote sticks in the author’s mind from John Inverdale before that game in 2013: “One thing is for certain. When Italy come to Twickenham, they lose. Big.”
The less said about John Inverdale here, the better. Here’s a graph of the teams respective rankings to take your mind off him.
Italy had a fairly miserable 2017, in which they recorded just one victory in 11 games, over Fiji at home. However, as noted in a previous article, all their games were played against teams considerably higher than them in the World Rankings, Fiji being the closest team, currently ranked 10th to the Italians 14th. Italy are probably therefore ‘artificially’ low in the rankings due to competing in the 6 Nations and playing most of their games against opposition consistently higher in the rankings (similar to Argentina in the Rugby Championship).
Head coach Conor O’Shea is ebullient ahead of the tournament, acknowledging Italy’s shortcomings, but also offering practical views on their way forward. After 2017’s shock tactics against England, one can’t help but wonder what he has in store for this year. Italy will need all the help they can get.
However, if Italy are to record their first win since 2015 in the 6 Nations it is unlikely to come against England. England have been dominant since their World Cup downfall, losing just one game since then.
England have a number of injuries at the moment – missing around 15 players at the time of writing. This may allow Italy slightly more chance than our algorithm suggests, but it is unlikely to affect the outcome. England’s strength in depth is arguably second to none; despite these numerous injuries they are still, at minimum, joint favourites for the tournament along with Ireland.
We see no real problems for England in Rome this Sunday however, similar to Inverdale in 2013, given half a chance the Italians under O’Shea would love to make us eat our words. Good luck to them.