England's George Kruis goads Italy coach Conor O'Shea to take positive approach in Six Nations Clash

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England lock George Kruis.

England lock George Kruis has joined Eddie Jones in taking aim at Italy on the eve of Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham.

Jones stated that the Azzurri can be a gifted team if their head coach Conor O’Shea takes a positive approach – a reference to the controversial no-ruck tactics employed by the Irishman at the same venue two years ago.

It is a view echoed by Kruis, who forms a second-row partnership alongside Joe Launchbury after Maro Itoje was definitively ruled out by forwards coach Steve Borthwick because of a knee injury.

“If Conor lets them play then they can play and produce some magic out the back. We’re prepared for that and we’re not underestimating them,” Kruis said.

“They’ve put on some pretty good performances in this Six Nations and we know they could chuck anything at us – like they have done previously.

Kruis (l) and Eddie Jones (r) are ready for Italy.

Kruis (l) and Eddie Jones (r) are ready for Italy.

“They’re unpredictable and can play in different styles. With Italy you’ve got to expect anything and that’s exactly what we’re thinking about.

“The game starts with the forwards so we know we’ve got a big job to do in the pack.”

Jones on Thursday raised the possibility of Maro Itoje being restored to England’s matchday 23 if he made rapid progress in his recovery from ligament damage, but the hope now is that he becomes available for Scotland.

“Maro is not fit for this weekend, but he’s recovering really well. He progresses every day. Everyone else is fully fit,” Borthwick said.

“We’re really excited about this game. Italy have played very, very well over the last couple of matches.

“Look at how they played for part of the game against Scotland and against Ireland – it shows they’re a good team.”

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Warren Gatland hails "fantastic" contribution of Wales' bench players in Six Nations

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Warren Gatland has highlighted the “fantastic” contribution of Wales’ replacements to a record unbeaten run and Six Nations title charge.

Wales’ strength in reserve was showcased during a 21-13 victory over England 11 days ago by fly-half Dan Biggar’s second-half appearance off the bench.

He bossed the final quarter, setting up wing Josh Adams’ match-clinching try, as Wales claimed a first Six Nations win in the fixture since 2013.

It would be no surprise to see the combination of Biggar and Gareth Anscombe – Wales’ current starting number 10 – again play a pivotal role in Saturday’s Murrayfield appointment with Scotland.

“I think both the 10s have been good coming off the bench,” Wales head coach Gatland said.

Warren Gatland

“It’s something that we did identify going back to the autumn, just in terms of the strength in depth we are trying to create in this squad and how important our bench has been.

“Our bench has been fantastic for us, so when we select the side we do talk about the potential impact of players coming off the bench. Not just carrying on, but giving us an impact off the bench.

“In fairness, they’ve been excellent, not just in the last game, but in a number of games for us.

“It has been a definite consideration when we’ve been picking the side.”

The England result has left Wales, unbeaten for 12 Tests, requiring wins against Scotland and then Ireland in Cardiff seven days later to secure the Six Nations title and a third Grand Slam of Gatland’s reign.

And Gatland added: “There is no doubt it was an important result for us. We prepared exceptionally well in those two weeks leading up to England.

“We were very confident within the squad we were going to deliver a good performance.

“Going in at half-time (Wales trailed 10-3), it wasn’t about the pressure England were putting on us, it was about the inaccuracies in our game that was giving England some ascendancy.

“We sorted those things out at half-time and had 60 per cent territory and domination.

“Our territory and possession against England was a pretty impressive statistic, and for us to finish as strong as we did in the last 20 minutes when they struggled to get out of their half, was excellent.

“We finished strongly, and we can build on that for this week.”

Wales have already beaten Scotland this season, claiming a 21-10 success in an autumn series opener, while they have only lost once in the Six Nations against them since 2007.

That defeat, though, came two years ago after Wales lost a 13-9 interval lead and conceded 20 unanswered second-half points.

Wales hooker Ken Owens said: “They look to play a very loose, open and expansive game, which we saw there two years ago, so we know the challenge they are going to bring and the quality they have in their side.

“They are a very good outfit – we always have a tough battle against them – and I think they know what we are going to bring, so they will look to nullify that, but we also know their threats.

“We are worrying about ourselves, and we are looking forward to getting out on the field, getting the result and keeping the momentum going.”

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England will give duo every opportunity to prove fitness ahead of Italy game

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Maro Itoje and Jack Nowell will be given every opportunity to prove their fitness for England’s Six Nations showdown with Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.

Itoje suffered an injury to the same knee damaged in the championship opener against Ireland on February 2 when performing a forwards drill in training on Tuesday.

Charlie Ewels is on standby to replace the Lions lock if he fails to recover in time with Joe Launchbury and George Kruis forming the starting second row partnership.

Nowell has been struggling with the shoulder stinger incurred in the opening two minutes against Wales and is also a major doubt ahead of Thursday morning’s team announcement.

Should he succumb to the injury, bulldozing Fijian-born wing Joe Cokanasiga will step up from the bench and into the number 14 jersey.

“We’ll give Maro every chance to make the weekend. He’s still got a good chance of making it,” defence coach John Mitchell said.

Jack Nowell

“We’re sensible enough to make sure the athlete’s health comes first. There’s no way that we want to create a setback for the athlete. But we’d like him to be there, he’s a bloody good player.

“Jack took a shoulder knock in the first minute of the match against Wales. He’s progressively increased his training all the way through and again he’s in a position to be considered.

“We’ll make sure his health is not at risk when we do make that decision.”

England remain in title contention despite their 21-13 defeat in Cardiff with bonus-point wins in the opening two rounds leaving them just two points adrift of Grand Slam-chasing Wales.

Italy have not won a Six Nations match since 2015 in a run spanning 20 Tests and have been unable to secure even a losing bonus points so far in this championship, but Mitchell views them as dangerous foes.

“We’re very mindful of the fact that they beat South Africa in 2017. They come with quite a lot of unpredictable attack,” Mitchell said.

“Being a defence coach, there’s a lot of variety in their attack and that creates different challenge for us. It also creates different opportunities for us as well.

“In saying that, I enjoy the way they play. They’re very possession based and with that variety in attack. They challenge you by playing with freedom.”

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