Six Nations preview: England v Italy - Saracens prop Mako Vunipola among five changes for Twickenham, as Toby Flood takes over from Owen Farrell

The Saracens prop will be making his first start for the Red Roses

Saracens prop Mako Vunipola will make his first England start against Italy on Sunday as one of five changes made by head coach Stuart Lancaster from the 23-13 victory over France.

Vunipola, who won his first seven Test caps as a high-impact replacement, replaces Joe Marler at loosehead with Tom Youngs taking over at hooker from Dylan Hartley.

Wasps flanker James Haskell returns on the blindside in place of Courtney Lawes and England go into the game with a new half-back combination.

Toby Flood takes over at fly-half from Owen Farrell, who is recovering from a strained thigh muscle suffered against France, and Danny Care gets his chance at scrum-half in place of Ben Youngs.

With Farrell not being risked, Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns is on the bench and eyeing a second cap, having made a successful debut off the bench in December's win against New Zealand.

Joining Burns among the replacements is Tom Croft, the Leicester flanker, who returns to the England fold 11 months after a broken neck almost left him paralysed.

Croft made his comeback for Leicester on January 4 and he rejoined the England squad after being given medical clearance to play every week.

After three consecutive victories, Lancaster always intended to "freshen up" the side as England target a victory over Italy that will tee up a shot at the Grand Slam.

Lancaster said: "We were very happy with the way we finished the France game. The impact the replacements made shows that we have competition for places across the board and we have had to make some tight calls.

"Italy will be highly motivated for this game and we will have to perform for the full 80 minutes. I am sure those starting will seize their chance and the bench will also have a significant part to play as the game goes on.

"The support at Twickenham for the Scotland and France games was superb and I am sure the atmosphere will be fantastic again for our final home match of the championship."

Lancaster had floated the idea of moving Manu Tuilagi to the wing and giving Billy Twelvetrees another start at inside centre but he has decided to keep faith with Chris Ashton.

The Saracens wing scored four of England's eight tries in this corresponding fixture two years ago and a repeat of that day would tighten England's grip on the Six Nations title.

England's points difference is currently 17 better than nearest rivals Wales, who they face in the final round of the championship in Cardiff next Saturday.

Lancaster wanted to freshen up the selection because he believes unleashing players who have been restricted to bench duty can enhance England's performance, a point which applies particularly to Care.

"They (Care and Ben Youngs) are unbelievably close. They are both high-quality players, in great form and in great condition and pushing each other," Lancaster said.

"Danny Care has waited patiently for his opportunity. In freshening the team up, sometimes when you have a guy who is desperate to play that can help the team."

Vunipola and Tom Youngs both made strong impressions off the bench against France, tightening up an English which creaked at times, and they have been rewarded.

"Mako gets his first start and everyone is delighted with that. He has thoroughly deserved his chance and we are looking forward to seeing how he goes," Lancaster said.

"All the front rowers looked at that (the scrum) and bringing Mako in for his start and Tom in for his scrummaging and ball carrying, it will hopefully address that."

Farrell is still only kicking at 80% after suffering a thigh strain but, in Flood, Lancaster is able to recall the most experienced member of his squad.

Croft came close to suffering a catastrophic injury with Leicester 11 months ago and his return to the England set-up has been a major boost for Lancaster.

The 27-year-old was eased back into action following his return for the Tigers in January but he has been cleared to play regularly - and looks as good as ever to Lancaster.

"The key point was I wanted to be sure he was back up to speed. He was a key figurehead in the Six Nations last year and while the team has evolved the principles have remained same," Lancaster said.

"He runs great lines in attack, he is back up to speed in our defence and it is great to have him back in the side."

Lancaster is planning for the Italy and Wales games as one project but the players are focusing solely on extending their unbeaten record against the Azzurri.

"I don't look at the bookie's odds because they are irrelevant. What is relevant is what mindset you turn up in," Lancaster said.

"I am always looking through the course of any week, asking are we ready, are we too anxious, are we in the right place?

"We are in a good place going into the game. Those players who are not involved are still 100% behind the team. That is the making of a good team."

Although Italy are rank outsiders, Lancaster will not write them off particularly following the return from suspension of captain Sergio Parisse.

"We know the improvement they have made and the quality they have," Lancaster said.

"Parisse coming back is a huge psychological lift and it adds a huge amount in terms of experience.

"All things point towards Italy putting in a strong performance and we have to be ready."

England team to play Italy in the RBS 6 Nations at Twickenham on Sunday, March 10 (kick-off 3pm):

A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); T Flood (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton).

Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Marler (Harlequins), C Lawes (Northampton), T Croft (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester), F Burns (Gloucester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game