LONDON (Reuters) - Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola and Courtney Lawes will return to England’s starting team to play Italy in the Six Nations in Rome on Sunday while giant 21-year-old lock Maro Itoje is in line to make his debut from the bench.
After beating Scotland 15-9 in Edinburgh in his first game in charge last week, coach Eddie Jones on Friday promoted scrumhalf Youngs, lock Lawes and prop Vunipola to the starting team after all impressed as replacements at Murrayfield.
Danny Care, Joe Launchbury and Joe Marler were dropped to the bench, joining the uncapped Itoje, England’s former Under-20 captain, as Jones opted for six forwards and two backs as his replacements.
“Mako, Ben and Courtney have been pushing hard for selection during training, but they also fit the game plan we want to implement against Italy,” Jones said in a statement.
“Danny, Joe Marler and Joe Launchbury will all have a significant roles to play to finish the game.”
The most eye-catching selection, however, is that of Itoje, who has been knocking at the international door after a series of impressive performances for Saracens.
England’s new defence coach Paul Gustard said this week that Itoje, who is 6ft 5ins and weighs over 18 stone, had the potential to be the next Martin Johnson or Paul O‘Connell.
“He’s massive, he’s athletic, he’s mobile, he’s a modern-day forward that can play in the second row or back row at test level I’d imagine,” Gustard said.
Jones is likely to give him a first taste of test action off the bench after resisting the clamour to include him against Scotland.
“Maro has consistently impressed me this week and, together with his excellent club form, has deserved his call-up to the match day squad,” said the Australian.
After getting his regime off to a steady start with a 15-9 win in Scotland Jones, in a rare proclamation of bullish confidence by a coach, said it was time for England to give Italy a good hiding.
England have won all 21 of the teams’ previous encounters and though they have had one or two tight ones, they were thumping 47-17 winners at Twickenham last year and triumphed 52-11 on their last visit to Rome in 2014.
“We are confident we can go to Rome and win, but we’re in no doubt of the challenge we face,” Jones said.
“Italy took France very close last weekend in Paris so they’ll be fired up.”
Back-rower Josh Beaumont and utility back Ollie Devoto, an unused replacement last week, will also travel with the squad to gain experience of test match rugby.
Team: 1-Mako Vunipola, 2-Dylan Hartley (captain), 3-Dan Cole, 4-Courtney Lawes, 5-George Kruis, 6-Chris Robshaw, 7-James Haskell, 8-Billy Vunipola; 9-Ben Youngs, 10-George Ford, 11-Jack Nowell, 12-Owen Farrell, 13-Jonathan Joseph, 14-Anthony Watson, 15-Mike Brown
Replacements: 16-Jamie George, 17-Joe Marler, 18-Paul Hill, 19-Joe Launchbury, 20-Maro Itoje, 21-Jack Clifford, 22-Danny Care, 23-Alex Goode
Editing by Ed Osmond