LONDON (Reuters) - Ben Te‘o will make his first international start after being named at outside centre for England in Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Italy at Twickenham, one of four changes to the team who beat Wales two weeks ago.
Te‘o looked impressive off the bench in England’s tournament opening victories over France, in which he scored the match-winning try, and Wales, and was handed a debut start by coach Eddie Jones on Friday after earning five caps as a replacement.
Jonny May returns on the right wing, Danny Care replaces Ben Youngs as starting scrumhalf and James Haskell is recalled at openside flanker.
Prop Mako Vunipola has returned from a lengthy knee injury layoff to earn a place on the bench.
There had been speculation that Owen Farrell could switch to his club position of flyhalf but he remains at inside centre in a muscular midfield and will earn his 50th cap, having made his debut at the start of the 2012 Six Nations.
Te‘o, 30, was born in New Zealand with a Samoan father and English mother. He moved to Australia as a teenager and forged an impressive career in rugby league in the NRL, also playing internationally for Samoa.
In 2013 he switched codes, joining Irish province Leinster, before moving again to English Premiership club Worcester at the start of this season.
”He’s a different sort of player, Ben,“ Jones told reporters. ”Our backs have been predominantly passing players and we just felt that it would give us another option to play a ball-runner in there. It’s a great opportunity to see if he can be another option for us at 13.
“We know we’ve got Jonathan Joseph, who’s a very good player, we know Elliot Daly can play there very well and we want to have a third option.”
Haskell, who missed the first half of the season after toe surgery, has made a real impact as one of Jones’s bench “finishers” and now gets the chance to reclaim the number seven shirt.
“We are sure his explosive actions will help us in the first part of the game,” Jones said.
“His fitness levels have encouraged us to start him and he’s raring to go. He’s a 31-year-old looking 13.”
England, on a 16-match winning streak and targeting back-to-back grand slams, will expect a hefty bonus-point win over Italy, a side they have beaten in all 22 previous meetings by an average margin of almost 30 points.
The Italians were thumped by Wales and Ireland in their opening home games and have yet to score a second-half point this year.
“Italy haven’t had a great tournament up to date but we respect them greatly,” Jones said. “We know they are going to come to Twickenham and play their best game of the tournament, as every team does against England.”
Editing by Ed Osmond