Jonny Hill handed England debut in Six Nations finale against Italy as Eddie Jones shuffles pack

Will Macpherson
·3-min read
Pressure debut: Exeter lock Jonny Hill will make his first appearance for England against Italy in Rome (Getty Images)
Pressure debut: Exeter lock Jonny Hill will make his first appearance for England against Italy in Rome (Getty Images)

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

Following the cancellation of their warm-up against the Barbarians on Sunday, 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 injured 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.

"Jonny's a big, tall guy who hits hard and carries hard," said head coach Jones. "He's a no-nonsense player in the George Kruis mould."

There are three more players who could make their debuts from the bench: 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.

Jones has opted to pick five forwards and three backs on a bench that appears well set to chase points. Jones, however, insists that England are only interested in winning the game, not the title race.

Ben Youngs receives his 100th cap at scrum-half - becoming only the second England player after Jason Leonard to reach that mark - and, with Willi Heinz injured, Wasps’ Dan Robson is on the bench and in line for his first Test appearance since March 2019.

Centurion: Ben Youngs will equal Jason Leonard this weekend with his 100th international capGetty Images
Centurion: Ben Youngs will equal Jason Leonard this weekend with his 100th international capGetty Images

"I can only speak with great admiration of Benny," said Jones. "At his best, he's close to the best half-back in the world, he's got a great running game, a good kicking game and is an important, infectious character in our squad."

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

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.

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.

Eddie Jones is confident in England's preparations despite the cancellation of their match against the BarbariansPool via REUTERS
Eddie Jones is confident in England's preparations despite the cancellation of their match against the BarbariansPool via REUTERS

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.

Elsewhere, Wales face Scotland, with Alun Wyn Jones breaking Richie McCaw's record as the most-capped Test player with 149.

Wales make six changes to the side that lost to France in Saturday's warm-up, with flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes handed a debut.

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