Ben Te’o will make his first England appearance in nearly a year after being selected at outside centre in the defending champions’ Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday, at 10pm Cambodian time.
British and Irish Lions midfielder Te’o, a powerful ball-carrier, has displaced Jonathan Joseph, more of a traditional “running” centre, in the side picked by Australian coach Eddie Jones after recovering from a severe ankle injury that ruled him out of England’s November series.
The match will be the first time Te’o has played since October, with the New Zealand-born rugby league convert partnering Owen Farrell in the centres.
Te’o’s only previous start for England was also against Italy in the corresponding fixture at Twickenham last season when an eventual 36-15 win for Jones’s men was overshadowed by the controversial “no ruck” tactics deployed by Azzurri coach Conor O’Shea.
Dylan Hartley remains as captain, with the hooker looking to lead England to their 23rd win in 24 Tests under Jones.
Meanwhile, Ben Youngs has retained his place as the starting scrum-half, despite continued pressure for the No9 shirt from Danny Care.
Despite injuries that have cost them several first-choice players, England – who have won all 23 of their previous Tests against Italy – will be huge favourites to start their bid for an unprecedented third successive outright Six Nations title with a victory.
“I have selected the strongest available side to play Italy this weekend and the players are excited to play in Rome,” Jones said.
“Our preparation over the last two weeks has been excellent and the players feel refreshed. We want to start the tournament well and are ready to go hunting against Italy.”
The former Australia and Japan coach added: “We know we need to get our set-piece right, be defensively strong and play with aggression and plenty of energy.”