Mick Cleary's verdict: A player-by-player guide to England's starting XV for Italy clash

Mick Cleary
·3-min read
England squad training in Teddington - Mick Cleary's verdict: A player-by-player guide to the England starting XV to play Italy - PA
England squad training in Teddington - Mick Cleary's verdict: A player-by-player guide to the England starting XV to play Italy - PA

15 George Furbank   

This is a great opportunity for Furbank to show that he has the poise as well as the class to succeed at Test level. The talent is there but the Northampton Saints full-back was shaky on debut against France in February.

14 Anthony Watson   

All England fans yearn to see Watson have a full, productive and injury-free season as he approaches his prime years. His evident class with and without the ball is a real asset.

13 Jonathan Joseph  

The Bath centre also needs to re-assert himself in the international game, form as well as injury stymying his progress in recent years. Manu Tuilagi’s absence is his chance to shine.

12 Henry Slade  

The Exeter Chiefs player has really matured over the last 18 months to the point where he is one of the first names on the teamsheet - although in which position is still a moveable entity.

Henry Slade training with England  - REUTERS
Henry Slade training with England - REUTERS

11 Jonny May  

There has been little seen or heard from May since lockdown so this is his chance to confirm his status as one of the most threatening runners in world rugby, intelligence allied to speed making for a potent mix.

10 Owen Farrell  

The spotlight shines even more intensely on Farrell given that this is his first game since being sent off for a dangerous tackle in early September, with the fly-half pledging that he has modified his technique.

9 Ben Youngs  

Ben Youngs passing - GETTY IMAGES
Ben Youngs passing - GETTY IMAGES

There are few more popular players in the game than Ben Youngs and his 100th cap for England will be rightly celebrated far and wide. Youngs, though, will not be satisfied with plaudits unless he can spark his back-line into life.

1 Mako Vunipola  

One of several Saracens players in the England squad that will be eager for a step-up in exposure and competition after being obliged to miss out on the Premiership play-offs.

2 Jamie George   

A 50th cap for George is fitting reward for the long apprenticeship served under Dylan Hartley and the fact that the self-same pressure is now being put on him will ensure that the Saracen lifts his game.

3 Kyle Sinckler  

The move to Bristol has suited Sinckler’s ball-in-hand style of play but the former Harlequin knows that he will be judged first and foremost by his ability to lay down firm foundations at scrum and lineout.

4 Maro Itoje  


There will be much interest to see if Itoje can build on his role as the pivotal player in England’s pack, a rallying figure in times of duress and setting the tone round the field.

5 Jonny Hill  

What a few weeks for the Exeter Chiefs lock, and there is little doubt that Hill’s role in his club’s surge to the top of the podium has helped propel him into England colours where he will add energy and cleverness.

6 Tom Curry   

The challenge for Curry will be to live up the hype that he has drawn to himself through several outstanding performances. Powerful and shrewd in equal measure, Curry is all too aware that he has to maintain those standards.

7 Sam Underhill  

Sam Underhill - GETTY IMAGES
Sam Underhill - GETTY IMAGES

The clamour that has surrounded the rise of Jack Willis has not managed to dissuade Eddie Jones from the notable claims of his Kamikaze kids’ pairing from the World Cup.

8 Billy Vunipola   

There is a sense of longing among England fans to see Vunipola back to his surging, churning best from the base, shaking off would-be tacklers and making serious yardage.