Zebre’s Jamie Elliott has warned England not to underestimate an “unpredictable” Italy side ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match at Twickenham.
The versatile back has called Parma home for two-and-a-half years after he made the surprise move across Europe in October 2018.
Bedford-born Elliott started his career at Northampton and helped them win the Gallagher Premiership during his eight seasons at Franklin’s Gardens.
Now playing in the Guinness PRO14, the Englishman saw 11 of his club-mates take part in the 2021 Six Nations curtain-raiser against France, which ended in a 50-10 loss for Franco Smith’s side.
“After the Autumn internationals, they feel like they have come on more as a team and have gelled more so we’ll see what the Six Nations holds,” Elliott, 28, told the PA news agency.
“England have faced them plenty of times, but this Italy side can be unpredictable and they will again have nothing to lose. They will definitely come out firing.”
While Saturday’s thrashing to France made it 28 consecutive Six Nations defeats for the Azzurri, they did push both Scotland and Wales close in the Autumn Nations Cup last year.
The chances of them ending their wait for a win this weekend may be slim, but Smith will hope they can continue to learn ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.
Zebre centre Elliott added: “As with all teams it’s that four-year plan. That is what they are gearing towards.”
In their last meeting with England at the Stadio Olimpico, Eddie Jones’ side won 34-5 to earn another Six Nations title.
This time they will face a much-changed Italy and one of the country’s big hopes in Michele Lamaro.
Young Wasps hooker Zac Nearchou has shared a dressing room with the Benetton forward this season while on loan at the Treviso-based outfit.
Nearchou told the PA news agency: “Miche is definitely a stand-out. He has played already for Italy and as he develops he will be even more of a threat.
“He is a really good guy and will be one of those to look out for from the Benetton team in terms of the younger lads.”
Aged 22, Lamaro made his third international appearance against France and caught the eye with his ball-carrying.
Usually a flanker, he lined up as a number eight on Saturday and if England head coach Jones was to make changes he could come up against one of Nearchou’s Wasps team-mates.
Jack Willis earned a late call-up to the Red Roses 28-man group following Sam Underhill’s injury last month, but missed out on the squad for the Calcutta Cup clash despite a fine introduction to international rugby in the autumn.
Nearchou, 20, got the chance to train with the flanker last summer while two players who he featured alongside in the academy at Wasps are part of England’s shadow squad – fly-half pair Jacob Umaga and Charlie Atkinson.
“I haven’t really had very long interactions with Jack, but the one thing I can say about all of them is they work so hard,” the Benetton loanee added.
“Jack, whenever everyone is finished with training, he is always there doing more jackaling or something extra and the same with Jacob, he is always kicking.
“It’s great to see people in my position rising up and Charlie is in the shadow squad too and I played extensively with him so I am really happy for him.”