Youngs to win 100th England cap as Hill makes debut against Italy

Julian Guyer
·3-min read

Ben Youngs is set to become the first back to win 100 England caps after the scrum-half was named Thursday in the starting side for their Six Nations title bid away to Italy this weekend.

Only retired prop Jason Leonard (114 caps) has made more Test appearances for England than the 31-year-old Youngs.

At the other end of the spectrum, lock Jonny Hill is poised for a Test debut after helping Exeter complete an English Premiership and European Champions Cup double this season, with the 26-year-old down to partner Maro Itoje in the second row at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

With George Ford injured, England captain Owen Farrell moves from inside centre to fly-half for the first time since last year's World Cup final defeat by South Africa in Japan.

"I can only speak with great admiration about Benny," Jones told a conference call on Thursday as he contemplated Youngs's looming landmark. 

"He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since has worked extremely hard on his game," added the Australian, who took charge after hosts England were knocked out in the first round.

- 'Energy driver' -

"At his best, he's close to the best half-back in the world, he's got a great running game, good kicking game and is an important, infectious character in our squad."

Farrell, speaking alongside Jones, praised Youngs as a "great driver of energy throughout the team".

"I remember he was in the England team when I was coming through, he was in at a very young age and stepped up to the plate very quickly. He's obviously been doing it ever since," added Farrell.

Hill got his chance after Courtney Lawes was ruled out with an ankle injury and with Japan-bound second row George Kruis no longer available for Test duty.

"Jonny's a big, tall guy who hits hard and carries hard," said Jones. "He's a no nonsense player in the George Kruis mould."

Meanwhile George Furbank deputises for Elliot Daly (shin injury) at full-back.

Henry Slade, who like Exeter team-mate Hill will be bidding for a third trophy in as many weeks, and Jonathan Joseph complete a new-look midfield, with powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi sidelined by an Achilles problem.

But with no place Jones' matchday 23 for uncapped Wasps fly-half Jacob Umaga, England lack specialist bench cover at No 10.

Saracens hooker Jamie George will be winning his 50th cap.

England head into the final round of this coronavirus-delayed Six Nations knowing an emphatic win over perennial strugglers Italy could see them crowned champions if the result of the France-Ireland match later Saturday also falls in their favour.

But they will go into their first fixture since the Championship's seven-month lockdown without a warm-up match after last week's game against the Barbarians was cancelled following breaches of Covid-19 health protocols involving the invitational club's players.

Italy have yet to beat England in a Test but Jones's men will likely need a bonus-point victory, achieved by scoring four or more tries, if they are to take the title.

Jones, however, said he wanted England to focus on "maximising our performance" rather than get distracted by title permutations.

"We have to be disciplined and focussed on playing to our absolute best," he explained. "We intend to optimise every minute of the 80 we have at the Rome stadium."

England (15-1)

George Furbank; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry; Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola

Replacements: Tom Dunn, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Ollie Thorley