‘I don’t expect England to lose but neither do they, and that’s the point’ | Dean Ryan

Stuart Lancaster's side have to get their choices right in Italy if they are to sneak the Six Nations title from Ireland

Decisions, decisions. Ten pounds on TeaforThree in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Friday, or should it have gone on England to win the Six Nations? Forty to one or close to evens? The nag got the money.

That's common sense, not a lack of loyalty. Sides don't go into Test matches expecting to win by 50 points. If they do it's just as likely to be an egg-on-the-face moment. As anyone with any sense has been saying all week; first you win the game and then you see by how much.

OK, Ireland might have run up close on a half century of points against Italy last weekend, but the more meaningful statistic was that they were only a Jonny Sexton penalty ahead until two minutes before half-time. Play fast and loose against Italy and they can hurt, as Rob and Dave Kearney discovered when young Leonard Sarto stepped past the brothers to go under the posts.

It took two bits of brilliance from Brian O'Driscoll to calm the Dublin jitters, whereas England must hope their collective is as influential at Irish individuality in sorting out the Italian conundrum. Because that's what it is; a different challenge from anything else they have faced this season.

Put Paris aside, for the moment – but for two soft tries, etc, etc. If discipline saw England home at Murrayfield, then precision against a very good side did the job against Ireland. Against Wales, emotion won the day. On Saturday the challenge will be more about choices. I don't expect England to lose but neither do they, and that's the point. There might not be that fear factor – which makes it easier to concentrate 100% for 80 minutes.

With Italy you know they are going to be strong up front and with Sergio Parisse back they will be hard to break down. The eight in the middle of the field will tackle and tackle. The secret is not to make their job too easy.

Spend all afternoon banging it up the middle and Italy will suffocate any side. Go wide too soon and too often and they'll pick off the predictable. Much as Ireland (eventually) discovered in Dublin last Saturday, it's about getting the choices right. The difference is the characters involved.

In Sexton, Ireland have a fly-half with an innate sense of when to go himself. He sees what's on very quickly and – for one last game – he has O'Driscoll, still very much a Leinster soul mate even if Sexton now plays in Paris. Their link for Sexton's try against Italy came off the Leinster training ground; O'Driscoll fixing three defenders (the referee Nigel Owens inadvertently blocked off a fourth) before putting his fly-half through the hole.

The second O'Driscoll 'moment was the basketball pass, looped over the Italian defence for Andrew Trimble, but England don't have a Sexton – Owen Farrell has different qualities – or an O'Driscoll, so they'll have to find other ways to unlock Italy and on Saturday we might discover a little bit more about Billy Twelvetrees as a decision-maker.

The pace of Danny Care will be vital, but don't bank on a tap-and-walk two weekends in a row. (Apparently Wales practised taking care of Care all week long, only for the designated defender Leigh Halfpenny to trip over his own feet). This time it could be the scrum half's relationship with Twelvetrees that counts.

The Gloucester centre has improved game by game since an iffy autumn and is maturing into the creative No12 Stuart Lancaster has always sought. His defence has also improved, but against Wales the stabbed kick through for Luther Burrell's try displayed vision more frequently on show in club games and which England need in Rome. Twelvetrees has the complete box of tricks – kicking, running, passing. On Saturday he has to make the right choices.

If you're looking for a balance I'd suggest that in the first half, England won't roam too far away from the comfort of the pack and the strengths of Chris Robshaw and Tom Woods. Just enough to keep Italy 'honest'. In the second, the wider channels come more into play; Care's speed of thought and the vision and distribution of his second receiver bringing Mike Brown more into the game as an attacking force down the channel inside the wing.

Last week in Dublin, Italy made a remarkable number of tackles, something like 100 in the first-half alone. In front of their own fans expect no less, and remember, recent England victories in Rome have been rather too close for comfort. However, it's when the legs start to tire that holes start to appear.

Quite where Manu Tuilagi fits into all this is another matter. In a close match – 9-9 going into the last quarter – I understand the impact role and there have been 'Tuilagi moments'. However, more recently I remember the holes Alex Goode created when England needed points for another reason in Paris. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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