England unchanged for showdown with Italy in Rome
Published 09/02/2012 | 12:50
CHRIS Robshaw will captain an unchanged England team into Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy in Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
Interim coach Stuart Lancaster staged a full-blooded training session on Tuesday afternoon to give every member of the squad a chance to force his way into the starting line-up.
But Lancaster has opted to stick by the same team that launched England's title defence with a gritty 13-6 victory over Scotland last weekend.
Northampton's Phil Dowson has held off a challenge from Ben Morgan to keep his place at number eight, in direct opposition to the dynamic Italy captain Sergio Parisse.
Morgan will be primed to make an impact off the bench at the sold-out Olympic Stadium, just as the 22-year-old did on a confident Test debut against Scotland.
Charlie Hodgson has recovered from a blow to the shoulder to continue at fly-half with Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt again forming an all-Saracens midfield.
Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson has recovered from a hand injury to retain his place on the bench, where England stick with a four-three split between forwards and backs.
Lancaster said: "We have decided to leave the starting team the same to allow them more time to gel together and we are expecting our bench to come on and make an impact as they did last week.
"Italy will be a very difficult challenge with nearly 700 caps in their starting line-up and it promises to be an outstanding occasion at the sold-out Stadio Olimpico."
Wasps hooker Rob Webber was the only one of England's eight uncapped players on show at Murrayfield who did not get on the field.
Harlequins prop Joe Marler and Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson will travel to Rome with the squad this afternoon to provide injury cover.
England are still without Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi, although both players could feature for Leicester this weekend with a view to being available to face Wales on February 25.
The Northampton pair of Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood are also still sidelined.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel yesterday made two changes to the side that was beaten 30-12 by France last week, handing starts to Aironi lock Marco Bortolami and Clermont Auvergne centre Gonzalo Canale.
Veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco has been included on the bench after recovering from the shoulder injury that ruled him out of the 2011 championship.