Captain Dylan Hartley will lead an experienced team in their NatWest Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday
Head coach Eddie Jones has named a starting XV that boasts 689 caps with England captain Hartley set to make his 90th appearance for the Red Rose. Ben Te'o will make his first England appearance in almost a year after being picked at outside centre for the NatWest 6 Nations clash with Italy in Rome. The Stadio Olimpico showdown on Sunday will be the first time the rugby league convert, who won two caps for the British and Irish Lions last summer, has played since October. Head coach Eddie Jones has opted for Te'o's powerful ball-carrying and smart running lines over the slick footwork of Joseph, who is included on the bench.
Exeter Chiefs Sam Simmonds starts at number eight for his fourth cap while fellow club mate Alec Hepburn could make his England debut having been named as a finisher. Ben Youngs of Leicester Tigers will start his 56th Test match overtaking Matt Dawson's record of most starts for an England halfback, while Harlequins scrum half Danny Care will equal Dawson for most caps as scrum half if he comes off the bench.
Courtney Lawes slots in at blindside flanker and Chris Robshaw at openside with Maro Itoje present at lock, where he partners Joe Launchbury. England are seeking to become the first team to win three successive outright Championship titles and enter the tournament as favourites.
THE STRONGEST TEAM AVAILABLE
Jones said: "I have selected the strongest available side to play Italy this weekend and the players are excited to play in Rome. Our preparation over the last two weeks has been excellent and the players feel refreshed. We want to start the tournament well and are ready to go hunting against Italy. We know we need to get our set piece right, be defensively strong and play with aggression and plenty of energy."
ITALY READY TO CAUSE A FEW UPSETS
Italy head coach Conor O'Shea says his team are hoping to cause a few upsets in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations, starting with their opener against England on Sunday. "We know the battle we will be taking on," said O'Shea. "If we get the energy at the right times and we ride our luck… that's what David has to do against Goliath. We're the ones who will probably put a banana skin under someone's hopes."
Italy's strategy at Twickenham in 2017 was one of the most memorable moments of last year's Championship, with the Azzurri taking a 10-5 half-time lead thanks to a try from Giovanbattista Venditti and five points from the boot of Tommaso Allan. The England side that day appeared to be confused by the lack of opposition players entering the ruck, thus creating no offside line. Last July, World Rugby introduced a law variation that effectively prevents a team from using the same strategy Italy enacted that day, and O'Shea went on to criticise the law change as well as the reaction to the tactics.
"I thought there was an overreaction last year," O'Shea added. "People looked at the five or six times we just played to the rules and did something different. What frustrated me was we'd actually played good rugby in the match and didn't get the credit for it. People came to Twickenham thinking England would score 100 points. For our team to come out and have the inner strength and belief to put in a performance like that, when everyone was just saying 'you're rubbish', that's what I thought should have been focused on. Then I thought the clarification to the law, after, was done too hastily. Because it was a law clarification that led to a game with more contact in it now. And it didn't need to be tinkered with."
England team to face Italy
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins 64 caps)
14 Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby 28 caps)
13 Ben Te'o (Worcester Warriors 8 caps)
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens 53 caps)
11 Jonny May (Leicester Tigers 29 caps)
10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers 40 caps)
9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers 73 caps)
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens 44 caps)
2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints 89 caps)
3 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers 77 caps)
4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps 47 caps)
5 Maro Itoje (Saracens 14 caps)
6 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints 61 caps)
7 Chris Robshaw (Harlequins 59 caps)
8 Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs 3 caps)
16 Jamie George (Saracens 20 caps)
17 Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs uncapped)
18 Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs 5 caps)
19 George Kruis (Saracens 21 caps)
20 Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby 3 caps)
21 Danny Care (Harlequins 76 caps)
22 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby 35 caps)
23 Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs 23 caps)
NatWest 6 Nations - Round 1 fixtures
Wales v Scotland, Sat 3 Feb, 14:15pm
France v Ireland, Sat 3 Feb, 16.45pm
Italy v England, Sun 4 Feb 2018, 3:00pm
England's 2018 NatWest 6 Nations fixtures
Italy v England, Sun 4 Feb 2018, 3:00pm
England v Wales, Sat 10 Feb 2018, 4:45pm
Scotland v England, Sat 24 Feb 2018, 4:45pm
France v England, Sat 10 Mar 2018, 4:45pm
England v Ireland, Sat 17 Mar 2018, 2:45pm