Leicester prop Dan Cole will make his full international debut for England after being picked alongside centre Riki Flutey to face Italy on Sunday.
Flutey was widely expected to replace Toby Flood in the England No.12 shirt after missing the 30-17 defeat of Wales through a thigh injury.
Cole’s elevation to the England tighthead berth though is a shock having been behind Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni in the Leicester pecking order and just 12 months ago was playing rugby for second-tier Nottingham.
But a series of impressive performances, notably against his England propping partner Tim Payne for Leicester against Wasps in January, have forced Cole into Martin Johnson’s thoughts.
And his elevation to the No.3 shirt ahead of Bath prop David Wilson against the Azzurri, renowned as one of the world’s best scrummaging outfits, is the ultimate vote of confidence in the 22-year-old who made his debut off the bench against Wales.
Johnson still has a series of fitness concerns despite the team announcement. Captain Steve Borthwick is suffering from a virus while fellow lock Simon Shaw also sat out contact training forcing Johnson to delay naming his bench.