Six Nations: England v Italy
Kick-off: 2.15pm, Saturday. Venue: Twickenham. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 1.45pm. On TV: Live on Virgin Media One and ITV.
Eddie Jones has recalled George Ford at outhalf in one of five changes to his side as England seek to get their Six Nations campaign back on track against Italy on Saturday. Ford's return means a move back to inside centre for the captain Owen Farrell while Jones has named a completely new front-row with recalls for Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler and a first Six Nations start for Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Ford was left on the bench for last weekend's defeat by Scotland – the first time he had been dropped since the 2019 World Cup quarter-final – but given England's meek performance in last Saturday's Calcutta Cup defeat, he comes straight back into the side with Ollie Lawrence making way. Lawrence drops out of the 23 and can consider himself unfortunate given the few opportunities he had last weekend to showcase his talents.
Vunipola comes straight into the starting lineup despite not having played since late November due to a calf and achilles problem. Sinckler also returns from suspension while Cowan-Dickie comes in for Jamie George at hooker in what will be his fourth start, having made 24 appearances from the bench.
Elsewhere, Courtney Lawes comes into the back row at blindside flanker in place of Mark Wilson with Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola continuing alongside him. Jonny Hill also keeps his place in the pack with Ben Youngs, Henry Slade, Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Elliot Daly all keeping their places. Youngs will win his 106th cap with Jones again refusing to give Robson his first start or Harry Randall the chance to make his debut.
On the bench Jones has opted for a 6-2 split with George, Ellis Genge and Will Stuart – last weekend's starting front row – all dropping to the bench. Charlie Ewels and Jack Willis both come in, having missed out against Scotland, to join Ben Earl while Dan Robson and Max Malins again provide back-up.
Jones said: “As always, we’ve picked what we think is our strongest 23 to try and win the game. We’re pleased to have Mako and Kyle back into the team and we’ve made some changes to our starting XV, but our finishers are just as important to our game plan. We look at the whole 80 minutes. We’ve trained very well this week, I’ve been very pleased with the players’ attitudes and work-rate. We’re hoping to put on a good performance on Saturday and kick on with our Six Nations campaign.”
Meanwhile, Italy head coach Franco Smith has opted to add more experience to his youthful side for Saturday’s clash after handing starts to centre Carlo Canna and prop Andrea Lovotti.
An injury to Marco Zanon sees Zebre playmaker Canna start at inside centre for his 49th Azzurri appearance, making him the most capped player in the starting lineup for the match at Twickenham.
Juan Ignacio Brex, who made his debut in the 50-10 defeat to France in Rome last weekend, moves to outside centre, while 43-cap loosehead Lovotti starts ahead of Daniele Rimpelli, who drops out of the matchday squad.
On the bench, 60-time Italy international Tommaso Allan comes in with flanker Maxime Mbanda dropping out as Smith changes to a split of five forwards and three backs.
England: E Daly; A Watson, H Slade, O Farrell (capt), J May; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, L Cowan-Dickie, K Sinckler, M Itoje, J Hill, C Lawes, T Curry, B Vunipola.
Replacements: J George, E Genge, W Stuart, C Ewels, B Earl, J Willis, D Robson, M Malins.
Italy: J Trulla, L Sperandio, J Ignacio Brex, C Canna, M Ioane, P Garbisi, S Varney; M Lamaro, J Meyer, S Negri, D Sisi, M Lazzaroni, M Riccioni, L Bigi (capt), A Lovotti.
Replacements: G Lucchesi, D Fischetti, G Zilocchi, N Cannone, F Ruzza, G Palazzani, T Allan, F Mori. – Guardian