Exeter’s Hill handed England debut in Six Nations finale against Italy

Eddie Jones has handed Exeter lock Jonny Hill a debut in the final match of England‘s Six Nations campaign against Italy on Saturday.

This will be England’s first match since the country went into lockdown in March, and Jones’s team shows seven personnel changes from the 33-30 victory over Wales.

England head to Rome on Thursday with the title on their mind. They are on 13 points, one behind Ireland in the table, so need to win with a four-try bonus point to keep their title hopes alive.

France could also still pip England, as they are level on points and just two worse off on points difference.

Seven players who started the Wales game are unavailable, with six of them inured and George Kruis moving to Japan. In addition, the Exeter pair Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie are out, but the Vunipola brothers (Mako and Billy) both return.

Hill, a crucial part of the Exeter side that won the Premiership and European double, comes in for Kruis as the only one of the nine uncapped players in England’s squad for the autumn Tests to be handed a start in the opening match, but three more players could make their debuts from the bench.

They are Bath hooker Tom Dunn, Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence and Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley. There will be no debuts this week for Wasps’ star flanker Jack Willis or the exciting backs Jacob Umaga or Max Malins.

Unlike much of the autumn, Jones has opted to pick five forwards and three backs on the bench.

Ben Youngs receives his 100th cap at scrum-half and, with Willi Heinz injured, Wasps’ Dan Robson is on the bench and in line for his first Test appearance since March 2019.

Hooker Jamie George also reaches a milestone, making his 50th appearance.

Billy Vunipola returns after injury, reuniting England’s back row from last year’s World Cup, with Tom Curry returning to the blindside flank and Sam Underhill on the openside.

“It’s testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them,” said Jones of the milestones the players are reaching.

George is joined in the front row by Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler, while Hill is alongside Maro Itoje at lock. Charlie Ewels is on the bench, meaning there is no place in the 23 for Joe Launchbury.

In the backs, Owen Farrell moves to fly-half, inside a centre combination of Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph. George Furbank is recalled at full-back after a shaky start to his international career earlier in the campaign.

“We’ve trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy,” said Jones.

“The team have prepared well and are looking forward to putting on an England shirt and showing what they can do.”

France have made one change to their team to face Ireland, with the injured wing Teddy Thomas replaced by Arthur Vincent.

Gael Fickou moves to the wing to accommodate Vincent at inside centre. Arthur Retiere comes onto the bench.

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