Six Nations: Alec Hepburn set to make England debut against Italy

Alec Heburn on the charge for Exeter
With a number of loose-heads unavailable, Alec Hepburn is set to be on the bench for England
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Dates: 3 February-17 March
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Exeter loose-head prop Alec Hepburn is set to make his England debut in Sunday's Six Nations match against Italy in Rome.

Hepburn, 24, is one of 25 players retained, and injuries and suspensions mean he is likely to be on the bench.

Jack Nowell and Ben Te'o are both in the squad after recovering from injury, with the Exeter wing in line to start.

Newcastle flanker Gary Graham and Saracens wing Nathan Earle - both of whom are uncapped - are also included.

Earle, 23, is likely to miss out on the 23-man matchday squad, but 25-year-old Graham is competing for a spot in the 23.

England boss Eddie Jones will name his starting XV on Friday morning, with prop Harry Williams and scrum-half Danny Care both pushing for rare starts.

After being dropped in the autumn, lock George Kruis has also been retained, with Nick Isiekwe returning to Saracens.

Bath number eight Zach Mercer's hopes of an England debut have been dashed by illness.

The 20-year-old has returned to his club, leaving Exeter's Sam Simmonds preparing to start his first Six Nations match.

Mercer is the third number eight to be ruled out, following injuries to Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola, while Wasps flanker James Haskell is banned for the match in Italy.

Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens)*, Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby) Danny Care (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te'o (Worcester Warriors), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Forwards: Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons)*, Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs)*, Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs).

* Denotes uncapped player

England's injury list
Forwards: Tom Curry, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Nathan Hughes, Zach Mercer, Matt Mullan, Beno Obano, Kyle Sinckler, Will Spencer, Billy Vunipola.
Backs: Elliot Daly, Piers Francis, Semesa Rokoduguni, Henry Slade.

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