Six Nations 2018: Ben Te'o starts for England against Italy

Ben Te'o
Te'o paid for trainers and physios out of his own pocket to help his recovery
Italy v England
Dates: Sunday 4 February Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online, live text commentary

Centre Ben Te'o has been preferred to Jonathan Joseph for England's Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Te'o has been out since mid-October with an ankle injury and last played for England almost a year ago.

Sam Simmonds starts at number eight, alongside Courtney Lawes and Chris Robshaw in the back row.

"We are ready to go hunting against Italy," said England head coach Eddie Jones.

Te'o had been expected to miss the start of the Championship because of his ankle problem, but has made a surprise return to fitness following rehabilitation in Australia.

The 31-year-old hired trainers and physios from Brisbane Broncos - where he played for four season from 2009 - out of his own pocket.

Te'o will partner Owen Farrell in the midfield, with Ben Youngs and George Ford at half-back and Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Mike Brown in the back three.

Joseph, who started four of England's five matches in their 2017 Six Nations campaign, is among the replacements.

Brown has recovered from an eye complaint, while Jack Nowell is on the bench after recovering from his own ankle injury.

Alec Hepburn
Hepburn has been in fine form for Premiership table-toppers Exeter

Nowell's Exeter team-mate Alec Hepburn is set to make his England debut from the bench.

"Our preparation over the last two weeks has been excellent and the players feel refreshed," Jones added.

"We know we need to get our set piece right, be defensively strong and play with aggression and plenty of energy."

England have won all 23 of their meetings with Italy, with their last four victories secured by a margin of more than 20 points.

Italy coach Conor O'Shea has named a side featuring several inexperienced players.

Flankers Renato Giammarioli and Sebastian Negri have three caps between them, while midfield partnership Tommaso Castello and Tommaso Boni have a total of just 13.

England team to face Italy:

Brown; Watson, Te'o, Farrell, May; Ford, Youngs; Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmonds

Replacements: George, Hepburn, Williams, Kruis, Underhill, Care, Joseph, Nowell

Analysis

Former England fly-half Paul Grayson:

Ben Te'o's return from an ankle injury straight into the starting 15 signals coach Eddie Jones' determination to get the heavy-carrying centre into the heart of his team.

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Six Nations 2018: Can England make it three in a row?

Te'o exiled himself to Australia to finance his own recovery and his immediate inclusion, after just a handful of Worcester appearances this season, marks him out as a virtually centrally-contracted player.

However Te'o was so good for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand that Jones is convinced the well-travelled centre is the answer to a lack of physicality across England's skilful back division.

As the door opens wide for Te'o, you have to feel another door closes ever so slightly for the unfortunate Manu Tuilagi, whose last international start was way back in June 2014.

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