Italy v England: Harry Randall, Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt prepare to put on a show

England head coach Eddie Jones trusts his “emotionally connected” younger players to “light up” Rome on Sunday.

Jones has selected his greatest showmen, with number eight Alex Dombrandt, scrum-half Harry Randall and fly-half Marcus Smith expected to put on an exciting spectacle against Italy.

England lost their opening Six Nations game for the third year running as Scotland beat them 20-17 last weekend.

They will get the chance to settle their nerves against underdogs Italy.

Although the Azzurri showed improvement against France, they are surely unlikely to provide much of a challenge given they have not won in the tournament since 2015.

And so, Jones senses an opportunity.

It is a chance, at last, for some of the players who dazzle weekly in the Premiership to peddle their wares in a proper tournament.

Bristol scrum-half Randall has played for England twice before, starting in July’s comprehensive wins against the United States and Canada.

The 24-year-old’s selection to face Italy causes a little rain on the parade of veteran Ben Youngs, who must await his chance on the bench to equal Jason Leonard’s men’s record of 114 England caps.

Randall offers an element of unpredictability in his sniping runs and should give quicker ball for 22-year-old Smith, allowing the fly-half to deliver more of the magic he offers Harlequins.

Smith and Dombrandt ‘have understanding’

Alex Dombrandt hugs Marcus Smith
Alex Dombrandt and Marcus Smith combined to help Harlequins win the Premiership title in 2021

Smith now seems established as England’s starting number 10 and club-mate Dombrandt has featured in big Tests off the bench, but will start in the Six Nations for the first time as he replaces Exeter’s Sam Simmonds.

Jones has made it clear that the inclusion of Randall and Dombrandt is to take advantage of an “open and unstructured” game.

And the number eight should contribute to England’s backline too, making up for some of the physicality lost in the absence of centre Manu Tuilagi.

Jones said of Smith and Dombrandt’s reunion at international level: “We see that certain styles of play fit each other and they’ve certainly got that understanding.

“Alex runs very good inside balls off Marcus. They will do that on the field and have been doing it in training.”

Replacements can be ‘Ali standing over Liston’

Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston in a black and white photo
Muhammad Ali stood over Sonny Liston, taunting him after a first-round knockout in 1965

Against Scotland, a lack of leadership and experience led to poor decision-making as England kicked away ball that might have proven more profitable if kept in hand.

England’s starting backline has fewer caps between them – 112 – than Youngs has alone.

But with World Cup finalists George Ford and Elliot Daly also on the bench, Jones expects his side to pack a punch late on.

The England coach elicited the iconic image of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after his first-round knockout in 1965 and hopes for similar scenes at full-time in Rome.

“We’ve got a chance on Sunday to atone for what we did against Scotland,” Jones said.

“We can only do that by being really ruthless and having that vision of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston – that sort of image in your head where you want to really go at them.

“There is the possibility the finishing eight will have the opportunity to be Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston.”

Team has ‘different emotional connection’

As well as offering more unpredictability and excitement in attack, England’s younger players have apparently contributed to a more united side.

While Jones says “collaboration is the key word” when it comes to working out gameplans with his senior heads, the newer faces in England camp have been central in overcoming adversity.

Team-mates were quick to rally round hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie after his error contributed to England’s defeat at Murrayfield and Jones says this is characteristic of his revamped team.

“This team, particularly because it’s younger, has got a different feel about it and there’s a different emotional connection between the players,” he told BBC Sport.

“The younger generation players tend to show their emotions more than older generations and they’ve been very forthcoming in looking after Luke.”

Title ‘still under England’s control’

Defeat against an Italy side on a Six Nations losing streak of 33 matches is unlikely, but as Grand Slam champions England’s loss to Italy in the Under-20s Six Nations on Friday showed: upsets happen.

England’s recent Six Nations statistics do not make pleasant reading either. Jones’ team have lost four of their past six matches in the tournament but with at least another month before the title is decided, all is not lost.

“We’ve been here before in 2020,” lock Charlie Ewels told BBC Sport.

“We went away to the Stade de France and lost to a good French team, then we went on to win every game and win the tournament.

“A lot of this group has been through that experience recently and understands that it is a long tournament and it’s still under our control and the next challenge is against Italy this weekend.”

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