Six Nations 2018: Ben Te'o starts for England ahead of Jonathan Joseph with Mike Brown fit to start against Italy

Te'o starts his first match since October after suffering two long-term injuries, while both Brown and Chris Robshaw are fit to start

Ben Te'o will make his first start in nearly four months after recovering from an ankle injury to start Italy vs England
Ben Te'o will make his first start in nearly four months after recovering from an ankle injury to start Italy vs England

Ben Te’o will start his first game since October after Eddie Jones named the Worcester Warriors centre in his England starting line-up to face Italy in this Sunday’s Six Nations opener, with the former rugby league convert selected ahead of Jonathan Joseph.

The rest of Jones’s team is as expected, with Dylan Hartley named captain and Mike Brown fit to start at full-back, meaning Anthony Watson remains on the wing. Chris Robshaw is passed fit to take his place at openside flanker, while Courtney Lawes is named on the blindside with Maro Itoje joining Joe Launchbury in the second row.

The front-row sees Hartley joined by regular first-choice props Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole, while Ben Youngs beats Danny Care to the scrum-half shirt as he joins his Leicester Tigers teammate George Ford in the half-backs.

World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Owen Farrell returns at inside centre after being rested for two of the three autumn internationals last November and partners Te’o, who has battled to be fit for the start of the championship after having had a plate, tightrope and screws inserted into his right ankle to correct an injury he suffered in Worcester’s Challenge Cup win over Brive on 14 October.

With Brown returning from a bout of blurred vision to claim the No 15 shirt, Watson joins Jonny May on the wing, with both Joseph and Jack Nowell named among the replacements – the latter of which could be trialled at outside centre should he come on as Jones seeks to find his third-choice 13.

Nowell’s Exeter Chiefs teammate Alec Hepburn is in line for his debut after the loosehead prop was named on the bench with Joe Marler suspended and both Ellis Genge and Matt Mullan injured, with Jamie George, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill and Care also included.

“I have selected the strongest available side to play Italy this weekend and the players are excited to play in Rome," Jones said of his team.

“Our preparation over the last two weeks has been excellent and the players feel refreshed. We want to start the tournament well and are ready to go hunting against Italy.

“We know we need to get our set piece right, be defensively strong and play with aggression and plenty of energy.”

England are looking to become the first team to win the Six Nations championship outright three times consecutively, with no other country managing the feat in the tournament’s 135-year history.

They begin their title defence in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday against a side that they have never failed to beat in their 23 previous encounters, and Jones’ side will be expected to make a winning start to the campaign – with the added expectation of a bonus-point victory on the process.

England team vs Italy

M Brown; A Watson, B Te’o, O Farrell, J May; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, D Hartley, D Cole; J Launchbury, M Itoje; C Lawes, C Robshaw, S Simmonds.

Replacements: J George, A Hepburn, H Williams, G Kruis, S Underhill, D Care, J Joseph, J Nowell.

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