England teams to take on Italy: Our writers select their XVs for Six Nations clash in Rome - and you can pick yours

Gavin Mairs
·6-min read
Eddie Jones runs the rule over his England players in training - EDDIE KEOGH
Eddie Jones runs the rule over his England players in training - EDDIE KEOGH

England coach Eddie Jones delivered one of his classic curveballs on Monday when he included Jacob Umaga in his latest squad instead of Joe Simmonds, then suggested Northampton fly-half George Furbank could be the team's next No 10.

Indeed, with George Ford set to miss Saturday's game in Rome through injury and Umaga a Test rookie, Furbank could very well find himself on the bench offering cover at full-back and fly-half.

"I believe he can be a very good 10, maybe that’s going to be a position that we consider him strongly for in the future," Jones said.

Along with Umaga, there are plenty of fresh-looking faces in the England squad so we have asked our team of writers to pick who they would like to see start against Italy in Rome on Saturday with the Six Nations title on the line.

Safe to say nobody has picked Furbank at fly-half, but there are some very interesting selections nonetheless...

Gavin Mairs

Injuries to Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi and George Ford will force Eddie Jones to field a new-look backline and Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence and Max Malins, on loan to Bristol from Saracens, could be the major beneficiaries. Jones has suggested that the increase in defensive line-speed has made the need for a distributor at 12 redundant and opens up the probably of the hard-carrying Lawrence starting alongside Henry Slade in the midfield. Malins meanwhile has been a stand-out player for Bristol at full-back. A fit-again Vunipola will return to the back row with Willis to make an impact off the bench following his Premiership final appearance.

Six Nations 2020: Gavin Mairs' England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Gavin Mairs' England XV to face Italy

Mick Cleary

Injury may have affected England (Manu Tuilagi, George Ford, Jack Nowell and others) but they can, and should, still field a very strong starting XV against Italy. The championship is at stake and a sense of familiarity with each other from battles waged long ago is the surest way to help score enough points in registering what everyone expects to be a victory over ailing Italy. A first cap for Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence will lend power to the midfield while the Kamikaze kids, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, are the men in position on the flanks. However, man-of-the-moment Jack Willis is sure to see action from the bench. 

Six Nations 2020: Mick Cleary's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Mick Cleary's England XV to face Italy

Daniel Schofield

Ollie Lawrence is the right man to fill the void left by Manu Tuilagi's absence in midfield. Lawrence is not Manu II, but has the power and footwork necessary to consistently break the gainline and become the focal point of England's attack. That should complement the playmaking abilities of Owen Farrell and Henry Slade to unleash potentially England's fastest-ever back three in the form of Anthony Watson, Ollie Thorley and Jonny May. Up front I would love to see Ellis Genge played from the start while Jonny Hill deserves to partner Maro Itoje on the basis of his outstanding form for Exeter. With so many changes elsewhere, further experimentation seems unnecessary so Jack Willis, Dan Robson and Max Malins can be unleashed from the bench. 

Six Nations 2020: Daniel Schofield's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Daniel Schofield's England XV to face Italy

Charlie Morgan

Without the experience of Elliot Daly and George Ford, I feel like both Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph have to start, with Joe Cokanasiga providing punch. Joe Marchant and Ollie Lawrence must feature later in the autumn, though. Eddie Jones can bolster the bench with six forwards, including Ben Earl and debutant Jack Willis. Dan Robson would also be among my replacements. The 23 shirt is perhaps the toughest call of all and likely to be between Max Malins and Jacob Umaga because of their ability to cover fly-half. 

Six Nations 2020: Charlie Morgan's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Charlie Morgan's England XV to face Italy

Ben Coles

With George Furbank's form questionable, I'd move Anthony Watson to full-back and give Ollie Thorley a long-awaited Test debut after his 11 tries in the Gallagher Premiership this season. He's a class player who continues to improve. In terms of the midfield, shift Henry Slade to 12 and from the shootout at 13 between Jonathan Joseph, Joe Marchant and Ollie Lawrence, I would lean towards Marchant after the strides he made this year in Super Rugby. The pack's a familiar look but at scrum-half I'd go with the hot hand in Dan Robson, given England need to rack up points and he'll attack from everywhere.

Six Nations 2020: Ben Coles' England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Ben Coles' England XV to face Italy

Jake Goodwill

Up front, the only selection dilemma is at loosehead. Mako Vunipola edges out Ellis Genge, despite not quite being at his best. Jack Willis has to play and I'd like to see how he operates alongside Tom Curry. They will do the grunt work, allowing Billy Vunipola to focus on carrying. Inside centre is the trickiest position to pick. I have opted to shift Henry Slade to 12, allowing England to continue with two playmakers. Joe Marchant has been consistently superb and deserves a start. To mitigate the lack of ballast in midfield, Joe Cokanasiga is on the wing. I am thoroughly unconvinced by George Furbank, making Anthony Watson's selection at full-back straightforward.

Six Nations 2020: Jake Goodwill's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Jake Goodwill's England XV to face Italy

Giles Mole

Three starting debutants in Max Malins, Ollie Lawrence and Jack Willis; six overall. Malins brings a fly-half's nous to the 15 role, just as Alex Goode does for Saracens and Beauden Barrett for the All Blacks. Lawrence is a younger, hungrier Manu Tuilagi and England need more options at 12. Joe Cokanasiga can come off the bench if England need more impact, as could Jacob Umaga who can cover fly-half and centre. Dan Robson starts ahead of Ben Youngs at 9 on form. Up front, Sam Underhill drops to the bench to make way for Willis, with Joe Launchbury starting at lock and Jonny Hill in reserve.

Six Nations 2020: Giles Mole's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Giles Mole's England XV to face Italy

Charles Richardson

Italy in Rome is always a tougher proposition than Italy on the road and, with a Six Nations title potentially at stake, this is no time for experimentation or dilly-dallying - a win with at least four tries is the minimum requirement. But gaps left by seasoned regulars must still be filled. Jonny Hill's work in the darkness can fill the void left by George Kruis and Courtney Lawes, while Ollie Lawrence's rare blend of snazzy feet, brutish strength and footballing wisdom deserves international attention. Jack Willis' time will come. His versatility makes him the perfect replacement, so he can ease his way into international rugby by letting rip against tired legs when (hopefully) the game is won.

Six Nations 2020: Charles Richardson's England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Charles Richardson's England XV to face Italy

HAVE YOUR SAY: Our team of writers have selected their preferred England starting XVs, and nobody is in agreement. What do you think of the selections? Have your say in the comments section below and pick your own side to tackle Italy with the team builder below >>>

Six Nations 2020: Pick your England XV to face Italy
Six Nations 2020: Pick your England XV to face Italy