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Six Nations: England captain Owen Farrell handed keys to number 10

England boss Steve Borthwick has put his faith in captain Owen Farrell to run his side from fly-half in Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy.

The skipper has spent much of the last decade playing his international rugby at inside centre but, after failing to combine with Marcus Smith in last Saturday's 29-23 defeat to Scotland, has been switched to his favoured role against the Azzurri.

That result in the Calcutta Cup marked the fourth year in a row that the Red Rose have lost their Six Nations opener and he pilots a reshuffled back-line with a new-look midfield partnership.

Sunday's opponents Italy were also on the wrong end of their opening scoreline as they lost 29-24 at home to France but it was a match in which they arguably played the better rugby, only to pay for their individual errors.

The Azzurri have lost all 29 of their meetings against England. However, their improvement over the last 12 months is demonstrated in their Result odds of 8/1 and Borthwick's side will need to be at their best to both avoid a shock defeat and keep their Six Nations title hopes alive.

WhatEngland v Italy, Six Nations 2023
WhereTwickenham Stadium, London
When15:00, Sunday 12th February
How to watchITV1
OddsEngland 1/14, Tie 50/1, Italy 8/1

Farrell where he wants to be

There was a case for Farrell to start at first receiver against Scotland following his fine form for Saracens this season but injuries meant the recently installed coaching staff chose to continue with the Smith-Farrell 10-12 axis often favoured by the previous regime.

Perhaps most important is the make-up of the back-line, with Ollie Lawrence included at 12 to smash over the gain line and Henry Slade outside him at 13, replacing Joe Marchant in what appears a more pragmatic partnership.

Slade's ability to play as a second receiver and kicking threat often helped England play their best rugby under Eddie Jones and will add shape to his country's muddled attacking play.

Meanwhile, Lawrence's presence may help close some of the defensive gaps that saw Scotland run in four tries last weekend, most notably Duhan van Merwe's magnificent 60-metre score.

The 23-year-old has rediscovered his form since switching to Bath and has fond memories of facing Italy, having made his debut against the Azzurri in 2020.

Outside them, Freddie Steward stays at full-back, with Ollie Hassell-Collins retained for his second cap on the left wing and Max Malins in the number 14 jersey. After crossing twice against Scotland, Malins is 10/3 to score 2 or More in the Multi Tryscorers market.

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No second course for Curry

The third change to the starting XV sees Jack Willis start at openside, with Ben Curry dropped from the squad.

Curry was hoped to be the ideal replacement for his injured twin brother Tom but missed a vital tackle on Ben White to allow the Scotland scrum-half to scamper in for his country's third try.

There was an expectation that Ben Earl could come in after impressing off the bench but Willis will wear seven alongside blindside Lewis Ludlum and number eight Alex Dombrandt, with the Saracens man staying in reserve.

Smith drops to the bench and is joined by Alex Mitchell and Henry Arundell as backs cover.

Mitchell is named as the replacement scrum-half after Ben Youngs' difficult spell against Scotland, while Arundell is back after a foot injury and is 8/11 as an Anytime Tryscorer, after doing so off the bench on debut against Australia last July.

Italy change two for Twickenham trip

The Azzurri have made two changes to their XV, with power seemingly the name of the game.

Edoardo Padovani, scorer of his country's famous match-winning try in Wales last year which ended their 36-match winless run in the tournament, starts on the right wing ahead of Pierre Bruno, who drops to the bench.

Meanwhile, Farrell, Malins and Earl's Saracens colleague Marco Riccioni is back available and starts at tighthead prop, with Simone Ferrari among the substitutes.

Ferrari is joined among the replacements by back-rower Jake Polledri who is set to earn his first Test cap since November 2020 after a torrid run of injuries, including cruciate ligament issues, calf and hamstring problems and a fractured leg.

Ange Capuozzo, who has scored three tries in as many career Six Nations outings, will again be the dangerman from full-back.

The Toulouse star scored against France and is 12/5 to do so again at Twickenham among the Anytime Tryscorers.

Capuozzo and co might be the outsiders but have beaten Wales and Australia over the last 12 months and are 1/1 to beat the handicap, set at +20 in the Game Betting 3-Way, having done so last week against France.

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