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

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent