London - Alec Hepburn is in line to make his England debut
when the Six Nations champions begin their title defence against Italy in Rome
The Exeter prop was included in a 25-man squad announced by
coach Eddie Jones on Wednesday and appears to destined to provide loosehead
cover off the bench for Mako Vunipola.
With the front row one of the most gruelling areas on the
field, many props don't last a full 80 minutes and that means Hepburn may well
feature at some stage during a Stadio Olimpico clash where the Azzurri will be
searching for their first Test win against England.
Hepburn is effectively England's sixth-choice loosehead prop
but the suspension of Joe Marler as well as injuries to Ellis Genge, Matt
Mullan and Beno Obano have given the 25-year-old an unexpected chance with
But the experienced trio of fullback Mike Brown, flank Chris
Robshaw and powerhouse forward Maro Itoje have all overcome their respective
Australian coach Jones, who has won 22 of his 23 Tests in
charge of England, is due to name his starting XV on Friday before the squad
fly out to Rome later that day.
England 25-man squad to play Italy:
Back three: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester), Anthony Watson (Bath)
Inside backs: Danny Care (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Ben Te'o (Worcester), Ben Youngs (Leicester)
Back five: George Graham (Newcastle), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Sam Underhill (Bath)
Front row: Dan Cole (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Alec Hepburn (Exeter), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter)