England host Italy in Round 2 of Six Nations on Sunday (3pm); Marcus Smith is dropped from side, with Owen Farrell moving to fly-half; centres Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence come in to start; Jack Willis replaces Ben Curry at openside; Tom Curry (hamstring), Courtney Lawes (calf) still out
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 10/02/23 3:16pm
Marcus Smith has been dropped to the bench by England head coach Steve Borthwick for Sunday’s Six Nations clash vs Italy, with skipper Owen Farrell moving to fly-half as one of three changes.
To facilitate Farrell’s shift from inside centre to No 10, Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade is brought into midfield after his recovery from a hip injury, as is Bath’s Ollie Lawrence, with Joe Marchant dropped to the bench.
Among the forwards, Jack Willis is named to start in place of Ben Curry at openside flanker – the latter cut from the England squad earlier in the week, along with Ben Youngs and Anthony Watson.
Willis faces Italy at Twickenham two years on from suffering a serious knee injury in the same fixture, which kept him out of the game for 53 weeks.
Elsewhere, England are still without key forwards Tom Curry (hamstring) and Courtney Lawes (calf) due to injury.
The back-three remains the same with Freddie Steward at full-back, and Max Malins and Ollie Hassell-Collins named on the wings.
Scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet partners Farrell at half-back, but there is a change among the replacements with Alex Mitchell the scrum-half named ahead of Youngs.
The forward pack is unchanged aside from the introduction of Willis, with a front row of Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler, and a second row of Ollie Chessum and Maro Itoje.
The back-row unit alongside Willis sees Lewis Ludlam at blindside flanker and Alex Dombrandt at No 8.
There is one further change to the squad, as fit-again London Irish back Henry Arundell comes in to wear the No 23.
“We welcome an exciting and in-form Italy team to Twickenham on Sunday. We recognise and respect the very real threat they pose in this Six Nations Championship and we are preparing accordingly,” Borthwick said on Friday.
“Notwithstanding the disappointment of last weekend’s Calcutta Cup result, we know that in a very short space of time positive steps have been taken towards the manner and style in which we want to play our rugby.
“We are at the start of what is a completely new cycle of England Rugby. The implementation of new systems does take time and the squad is showing themselves to be hungry to deliver the sort of performance that we know they are capable of.
“From the squad, I have selected a team for Sunday’s fixture that I believe is best placed to meet the specific challenges that Italy will bring.
“It is a selection of players whose form, individual strengths and combined qualities suit the way we want to play against Italy, in what we anticipate will be another hard-fought and entertaining spectacle.”
England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Ollie Chessum, 5 Maro Itoje, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Jack Willis, 8 Alex Dombrandt
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Henry Arundell.