Italy v England: Jack Willis ready for Test rugby - Matt Proudfoot

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Jack Willis playing for Wasps
Jack Willis earned his first senior cap for Wasps in 2016
Guinness Six Nations: Italy v England
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Saturday, 31 October Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live with live text on BBC Sport website and app
Highlights: Watch on BBC Sport website and app after the match.

In-form Wasps flanker Jack Willis is "ready for Test rugby", according to England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot.

The uncapped Willis, 23, has returned to the international fold two years after injury scuppered his chances of a first cap in 2018.

But after a stand-out season for his club, he is being backed to make the step up.

"His physical game [stands out] and he learns really quickly," Proudfoot told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"A player who brings that physicality and can come into an environment and still grow, then you know he is ready for Test rugby."

England face Italy in Rome on Saturday as they bid to win the Six Nations title, with Proudfoot expecting Wasps players like Willis and club captain Joe Launchbury to be keen to "get on the horse as quickly as they can" after their narrow Premiership final defeat by Exeter last weekend.

"I think they are ready to go," said the former Springbok coach.

Six Nations table showing Ireland on 14 points, England on 13, France on 13, Scotland on 10, Wales on 7 and Italy on 0

Proudfoot has also talked up the credentials of two of the uncapped locks in the squad, Exeter's Jonny Hill and Northampton's David Ribbans.

"We have two great young players who have come in are are relishing the opportunity to work alongside Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje and Charlie Ewels," Proudfoot added.

Meanwhile, flanker Ben Earl has hailed the back-row competition in the squad, with the Bristol man competing with the likes of Willis, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Ted Hill and Lewis Ludlam.

"[The competition] is fruity isn't it?" Earl said.

"There are some very, very good players, some fantastic players and some fantastic blokes.

"We all want to be wearing the Red Rose on the weekend, but we realise there are only four or five of us can do that.

"So everyone is trying to get better, and if your number is not up that week, your number is not up that week, but you know you don't leave anything to chance and you prepare the best you can."

Meanwhile, Earl has spoken of the responsibility the squad has to ensure the upcoming autumn schedule goes ahead as planned, with England due to play four matches in the Autumn Nations Cup following the Six Nations finale.

England's warm-up fixture with the Barbarians last weekend was cancelled after several players breached Covid protocols.

The majority of the players involved were from Saracens, where Earl will return in the summer of 2021 from his loan spell at Bristol.

"Having spoken to a few of those boys, they are very sorry and very regretful and they realise the mistake the have made," Earl said.

"They weren't doing it to spite anyone. They were doing it, I guess, because of the excitement in the group, the tradition of what that week looks like.

"But at the end of the day we have a massive responsibility, we have got to make sure five games happen for the RFU (Rugby Football Union) and for ourselves.

"You would hate to be starting a Test match and for it to be called off because of someone making a silly decision.

"So we have a responsibility to prepare the best we can and be compliant with those Covid restrictions."