The Leicester Tigers were well represented at the game at Twickenham yesterday (Sunday) with eight players from the club taking to the field in the Six Nations clash.
Starting for England in the 18-11 win over Italy were: Toby Flood, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Youngs and Manu Tuilagi with Ben Youngs and Tom Croft coming off the bench.
Starting opposite them in the blue of Italy was Leicester’s talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni.
In a performance where England never got near hitting their top gear it was Leicester’s fly-half Flood who scored all of the homeside’s point through six penalties. Flood became the fourth highest scoring player for England of all-time, making his first start of the championship having replaced the injured Owen Farrell.
Flood’s 100 per cent display took him past Jonathan Webb and into fourth place on England’s all-time points list behind Rob Andrew, Paul Grayson and Jonny Wilkinson.
While Flood was on the mark with his goal kicking he had a mixed return to the starting XV, missing touch with two early penalties and struggling to get England’s back line firing. This failure to capitalise on scoring opportunities was best typified by the moment Flood opted to go for the line himself, eventually getting held up over the line, rather than passing to the vast number of players he had on the overlap.
It was a happier day for Leicester’s forwards wearing the red rose. Dan Cole did no harm to his reputation as one of the best tight head props in world rugby with another strong display in the tight and loose.
Geoff Parling put in a typically athletic performance, however had to depart earlier than he would of like, in the 45th minute, when he picked up a shoulder injury. He was joined on the injured list by Castrogiovanni.
The extent of both men’s injuries are still being assessed.
The great story from the game came with the return of Tom Croft when he replaced James Haskell in the 50th minute. Croft, who has been out of all rugby for the best part of a year after suffering a neck injury, should have sealed his return with a try had Brad Barritt passed to the rapid back row just metres from the line.
Tom Youngs’ power was in full display and most importantly his line out throwing was accurate.
His brother Ben brought a fresh snap to England’s play when he replaced Danny Care at scrum half and will almost certainly claim the number nine shirt for England’s Grand Slam decider in Cardiff on Saturday.
Tuilagi had a quiet by game his standards, being the victim of the misfiring attack and some valiant and efficient Italian tackling. He and England will have to find a way to utilise their most valuable attacking asset even when he is clearly targeted by the opposition.
With all the players keeping one eye on securing a place on the British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia in the summer one man who will definitely be involved with the famous touring side is Castrogiovanni who is one of the first players announced to play for the Barbarians when they face the Lions in the opening game of the tour in Hong Kong.
In transfer news Leicester have signed 21-year-old Scarlets fly-half Owen Williams who will join Tigers at the end of the season.
Williams has represented Wales at Under-20, playing seven competitive matches for the region this season. The young fly-half was offered a new deal at the Welsh club but has opted to leave at the end of his development contract.
He will join Ryan Lamb at Welford Road next season to compete with Flood and Dan Bowden for the number ten shirt. George Ford will be leaving the club with Bath his expected destination.
The Tigers were rumoured to be considering trying to bring former Scotland captain John Barclay to the club from Glasgow but with Julian Salvi agreeing to a new contract the club has dimmed their interest. The 26-year-old open side is now believed to be the target of several French Top 14 clubs with Lyon leading the interest.
Prop Kieran Brooke’s, 22, returned to Championship side Newcastle Falcons on a duel registration loan last week. Brooke’s has made just three appearances for Leicester this season and only six during two years at the club.
Brookes, who has been injured for much of his spell with Leicester, joined up with Falcons during the week and started on the bench for their 17-15 win over Bedford on Friday. The club led by former Tigers legend Dean Richards are favourite to return to the Aviva Premiership next season.
Brookes, a former England Saxon, is out of contract at Leicester this summer.