Rome - England forwards coach Steve Borthwick has backed Sam
Simmonds to make up in pace what he lacks in physical presence when the Exeter
No 8 makes his Six Nations debut against Italy in Rome on Sunday.
Simmonds is some 12 kilos lighter than England
first-choice No 8 Billy Vunipola.
But with Vunipola (arm), Nathan Hughes (knee) and Zach
Mercer (illness) unfit, and the experienced James Haskell suspended, England
have given a fourth cap to Simmonds, who made his Test debut against Argentina in
"Sam did very, very well during the autumn
series," Borthwick told reporters at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
"He is quick off the base of the scrum, he finds space
when he carries and is very hard-working," added the former England
Simmonds's opposite number on Saturday will be Italy captain
Sergio Parisse but Borthwick was confident the Exeter man would hold his own
against one of the outstanding No8s in world rugby.
"He (Simmonds) is quick. He can run with our backs he's
that quick," the former lock added.
"He has some real ability and has a great attitude to
go with it."
Title-holders England are bidding to become the first team
in the history of the Six Nations, through all its guises, to win three
successive outright Championships.
But a revamped pack has seen Courtney Lawes installed at
blindside flank, with Maro Itoje alongside Joe Launchbury in the second row.
"You need a balance of ball-carrying across your
backrow," Borthwick said.
"Look at Lawes's footwork and the way Sam finds space.
There are different types of carriers and that mix is a positive."
Italy haven't won a Six Nations match since a 22-19 success
away to Scotland in 2015. They have lost all 23 times they have played England
but have come close several times. Borthwick was involved in England sides that
scraped 23-19 and 17-12 wins in the Italian capital in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
More recently, the Azzurri, under the guidance of their
Irish coach Conor O'Shea, embarrassed England with their no-ruck ploy at
Twickenham last year before losing 36-15.
"Italy have some very good players and also a very
experienced coaching staff, so we know they'll be very well prepared,"
"They have one or two new faces and what that's meant
is that we have focused upon our preparation so that our players are ready for
whatever is in front of them," he explained.
"This is international rugby and these games are always
intense encounters and we're expecting that intensity against Italy."
15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Renato Giammarioli, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Substitutes: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda’, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Ben Te'o, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola
Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Danny Care, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Jack Nowell