Rowntree: Cole ready for Italy challenge
England scrum coach Graham Rowntree is convinced rookie prop Dan Cole can handle being thrown in at the deep end against Italy's renowned pack of scrummagers.
Cole, 22, will make his full Test debut at the Stadio Flaminio on Sunday after just 14 Guinness Premiership starts for Leicester, and only a year after being sent out on loan to First Division Nottingham.
Rowntree, who has worked with Cole since his days in the Leicester academy, said: "We understand that at his age he is still a work in progress. It doesn't get much tougher for a first start but we wouldn't put him in there if we didn't have confidence in him to handle it."
He added: "His temperament is his strength; he is tough but he doesn't go around banging his chest.
"That sort of bravado is not in him but he's tough. He did a great job coming on against Wales last week and I have every confidence in him."
Cole has been on Rowntree's radar for some time but he publicly announced his extraordinary potential with two seismic performances either side of Christmas.
In Leicester's Heineken Cup victory over Clermont Auvergne on December 21, Cole dismantled France international loose-head Lionel Faure. Less than a month later he repeated the trick, this time against his new England team-mate Tim Payne as Leicester's pack destroyed Wasps.
England forwards coach John Wells - a former Leicester player like Rowntree and England boss Martin Johnson - believes the ultra-competitive Welford Road environment is doing Cole the world of good.
"He has the core attributes you look for in a prop - excellent scrummaging, a good empathy with the lineout and the area that has greatly impressed us this season has been his mobility and his fitness," said Wells.
"He is working in a great environment at Leicester. He has acted as back-up to Castro (Martin Castrogiovanni) and Julian White and probably put such a marker down that when it comes to selection decisions at the club he will be in a strong position."