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'Underdogs England can spring surprises' OFFICIAL BEER OF ENGLAND RUGBY GREENE KING IPA FORMER England star Lawrence Dallaglio runs the rule over the current side's hopes as they kick-off their Six Nations challenge at home to Italy.

FOLLOWING the baptism of fire that was the autumn internationals Martin Johnson will be looking for his squad to regroup ahead of the RBS 6 Nations and begin to mature as a unit under his leadership.

England have not lifted the 6 Nations trophy since the World Cup winning year of 2003 so the team's desire will be as strong as ever, especially with Jonno, a man who never took kindly to defeat as a player, in the coaching hot seat.

In my opinion, there is no reason why England cannot win this year's tournament with the pool of talent they possess and it might even help that they are widely perceived to be underdogs when compared to Wales and France in particular.

England have the advantage of playing three games at Twickenham this year, against Italy, France and Scotland.

That should be an advantage, as long as they can give the home crowd good reasons to get behind them, something that was lacking a bit in the Autumn, albeit the opposition was stronger than perhaps they will face during the next couple of months.

Kicking-off their year on February 7 against Italy, Jonno will be confident they will get off to a winning start, as they did in the autumn against the Pacific Islanders.

Of course, like any team at the top end of international rugby, the Italians should not be taken for granted and will still provide a stern test for an England side that is still in its first stages of its development.

Over the past five years, it seems that the Azzurri have presented an increasingly strong challenge to England, with last year's 23-19 win in Rome being a narrowest-ever margin of victory.

Italy's strength lies in their loose forwards who will be some of the most mobile and skilled in their position at the tournament.

Captained by a player considered one of the world's best No8s, Sergio Parisse, Italy will scrap for every point they can against England meaning that whoever plays at fly-half will need to be alert and have brought along his best kicking game to ensure that England can make territorial gains under pressure.

Of course, at the start of the autumn internationals, it looked like Danny Cipriani would be in the box seat at ten but the difficulties he found playing against some of the best in world rugby showed that he had a little bit of work to do before he could claim a starting berth as his own.

Many have been quick to criticise Danny but I know from playing alongside him at Wasps that he is a special talent. It is easy to forget the seriousness of the injury he experienced only eight months ago, something that would take any player a good while to recover from.

At only 21-years-old he is still learning his game and I'm sure that he will be a mainstay for England for years to come.

With Danny dropped to the Saxons squad for the first game, Johnson has gone for the surprise choice of his old Leicester Tigers' teammate Andy Goode at 10 whom he must feel will bring a bit of experience to the otherwise young squad.

Jonno has made some interesting new additions to the squad include Northampton's Ben Foden, who will provide cover at both full-back and scrum-half, and London Irish flanker Steffon Armitage who will be hoping to follow in his brother Delon's footsteps and make his England debut.

Along with Danny Care, Delon Armitage was one of the real positives to come out of the autumn internationals so hopefully with the two of them growing in experience the squad will unify under Captain Steve Borthwick and pick up a result at Twickenham tomorrow.

I'm frequently asked where I stand on Steve keeping his position and I know as an ex-England captain the responsibility that is laid on you for the performance of the team.

Steve has been a model professional and a fantastic rugby player for many years and will be able to take whatever is said about him on the chin and move on.

Lawrence Dallaglio is an ambassador for Greene King IPA, the Official Beer of England Rugby.


WE CAN WIN IT: Former England star Lawrence Dallaglio (s)
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Feb 6, 2009
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