England vs Italy team news: Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi start among five changes for Six Nations clash

Ellis Genge, Joe Launchbury, Brad Shields and Joe Cokanasiga are also handed their first starts of the Six Nations

Jack de Menezes
Thursday 07 March 2019 11:38 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Eddie Jones has made five changes to his England side for Saturday's penultimate Six Nations clash against Italy Rugby as both Joe Cokanasiga and Ben Te'o start in a rejigged back line.

Cokanasiga will make his full Six Nations debut after being brought on as a replacement in the defeat against Wales two weeks ago, while Te'o starts at inside centre in place of Henry Slade to form a new powerful partnership with Manu Tuilagi, who moves from 12 to 13.

Jack Nowell drops out of the side after struggling throughout the week with a ‘stinger’ injury suffered to his shoulder during the loss at the Principality Stadium.

The three other changes come in the pack a Ellis Genge starts in place of Ben Moon at loosehead prop, Joe Launchbury comes into the second row in place of the injured Courtney Lawes and Brad Shields starts at blindside flanker ahead of Mark Wilson, with both Moon and Wilson joining Slade on the replacements bench.

With Maro Itoje not fit enough to return from the knee injury suffered against Ireland on the opening weekend of the championship – with the lock suffering a setback in training on Tuesday as he collapsed when dodging Jones himself during a training exercise – Nathan Hughes covers the second row of Launchbury and George Kruis, with Wilson also included to cover the back row.

Despite the changes, the half-backs remain the same in Ben Youngs and captain Owen Farrell, meaning that Dan Robson continues to wait for his first England start after being limited to just 11 minutes against France, with George Ford also continuing his role among the replacements.

The rest of the side is retained from the 21-13 defeat in Cardiff, with Jamie George and Kyle Scinkler joining Genge in the front row and Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola forming the back row with Shields.

The decision by head coach Jones to go with brute force in his selection comes at the end of a feisty two weeks that saw England train against Georgia in a session that saw the two sides involved in a mini-brawl during an ill-tempered scrummaging session, but the Australian hopes that will help gee up his side to try and keep their Six Nations championship hopes alive should leaders Wales slip-up over the course of the final two weeks.

“We have had a good preparation ahead of Italy with a great week in Oxford where we competed against Georgia for two days,” Jones said. “Players have had a good break and have come back into camp reenergised and refocused for what is an important game for us.

Joe Cokanasiga returns to the England starting line-up for the Six Nations game against Italy
Joe Cokanasiga returns to the England starting line-up for the Six Nations game against Italy (Getty)

“Italy is a bit of an unknown quantity but when Conor (O’Shea) allows them to play rugby they play well. They have played terrific games in the Six Nations. They are fitter, physically stay in the contest a lot longer and they are quite unpredictable in the way they attack.

“We expect Italy to throw the ball around a bit so we are going to have to defend very well against their unpredictability and when we have got the ball, we have to use it wisely.

England team to face Italy:

Elliot Daly; Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Te’o, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler; Joe Launchbury, George Kruis; Brad Shields, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Dan Cole, Nathan Hughes, Mark Wilson, Dan Robson, George Ford, Henry Slade.

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