Rowntree backs Cole to thrive for England

England scrum coach Graham Rowntree is convinced rookie prop Dan Cole can handle being thrown in at the deep end against Italy's renowned pack of scrummagers.

Cole will make his full Test debut at the Stadio Flaminio on Sunday after just 14 Guinness Premiership starts for Leicester and only a year after being sent out on loan to first division Nottingham.

The 19 stone tighthead forced his way into the England reckoning after a series of destructive performances for the Tigers this season, most notably against Clermont Auvergne and Wasps.

The 22-year-old has replaced David Wilson, who is struggling with a shoulder injury, in the England side for their Valentine's Day showdown with the Azzurri.

There will be nothing romantic about packing down against an Italian front row propped by Cole's Leicester mentor Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini.

But Rowntree, who has worked with Cole since his days in the Leicester academy, backed him to shine in Rome.

"We understand that at his age he is still a work in progress," said Rowntree.

"It doesn't get much tougher for a first start but we wouldn't put him in there if we didn't have confidence in him to handle it.

"His temperament is his strength; he is tough but he doesn't go around banging his chest.

"That sort of bravado is not in him but he's tough.

"He did a great job coming on against Wales last week and I have every confidence in him."

Cole has been on Rowntree's radar for some time but he publicly announced his extraordinary potential with two seismic performances either side of Christmas.

In Leicester's Heineken Cup victory over Clermont Auvergne on December 21, Cole dismantled France international loose-head Lionel Faure.

Less than a month later he repeated the trick, this time against his new England team-mate Tim Payne as Leicester's pack destroyed Wasps.

England's forwards coach John Wells - a former Leicester player like Rowntree and England boss Martin Johnson - believes the ultra-competitive Welford Road environment is doing Cole the world of good.

"He has the core attributes you look for in a prop - excellent scrummaging, a good empathy with the lineout and the area that has greatly impressed us this season has been his mobility and his fitness," said Wells.

"He is working in a great environment at Leicester. He has acted as back-up to Castro and Julian White and probably put such a marker down that when it comes to selection decisions at the club he will be in a strong position."

Riki Flutey returned to the side in place of Toby Flood after recovering from a dead leg which ruled him out of England's 30-17 victory over Wales last weekend.

Meanwhile, Johnson played down fears that a bug was sweeping through the camp and he insisted Steve Borthwick and Simon Shaw, who have both been laid low this week, will be fit to play on Sunday.

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