LONDON (Reuters) - Exeter’s Jonny Hill will make his England debut against Italy on Saturday after coach Eddie Jones named him as lock partner to Maro Itoje for the game in Rome where the Six Nations title is at stake.
Scrumhalf Ben Youngs will win his 100th cap, inside captain and flyhalf Owen Farrell. In the absence of the injured Manu Tuilagi, Jones has opted for the creative centre pairing of Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph, with George Furbank at fullback in place of injured Elliot Daly. Furbank and Slade will cover the flyhalf duties in the event of a Farrell injury.
After much speculation about his backrow options, Jones has returned to the trio who performed so well in the World Cup, with Sam Underhill and Tom Curry flanking Billy Vunipola, making his first appearance since the final defeat by South Africa a year ago this week. Hooker Jamie George will win his 50th cap.
There are three uncapped players on the bench - hooker Tom Dunn, powerful centre Ollie Lawrence and winger Ollie Thorley, while Dan Robson is the backup scrumhalf.
Youngs follows former prop Jason Leonard (114) as England’s second centurion and Farrell was full of praise for the man who has been his partner in so many games. “Everybody knows how good a player Ben is, not only for what he’s doing in recent times but for how long he’s been doing it,” Farrell said.
“He was in at a very young age and stepped up to the plate very quickly. He’s brilliant to play with, a great driver of energy throughout the team, which is great for a scrumhalf. He obviously keeps pace very well and gets the team on the front foot.”
England will hope to beat Italy with a bonus point and rack up enough tries to take the title on points difference, assuming Ireland do not buck the odds by beating France in Paris with a bonus point in the final game of the championship on Saturday.
Ireland have 14 points to the 13 of England and France. If Ireland win with a bonus point they will be crowned champions, but that is an unlikely outcome.
Ireland’s points difference is +38, with England on +15 and France on +13. To finish top England would need to secure their bonus point, make up the 23-point deficit on Ireland, and then better any further points difference advantage Ireland might gain with a non-bonus point win.
Jones said he would approach the game the same way as usual, despite the need for tries. “We’ve just been focussed on maximising our performance,” he said. “We have to be disciplined and focussed on playing to our absolute best, and every minute presents an opportunity.”
The France v Ireland game looks set to go ahead despite the country going into lockdown. However, the home side’s only hope of the title is to beat Ireland by a better margin than England manage against Italy - or hope England lose to Italy for the first time.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge
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