England have named Manu Tuilagi on the bench for their final match of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.
Tuilagi will make his first appearance for England in a year after recovering from the torn pectoral muscle that kept him out for six months. The British and Irish Lion has played just 70 minutes for his club Leicester since regaining fitness, but head coach Stuart Lancaster deems him ready for England’s final assault on the title.
Tuilagi can cover centre and wing and has replaced Alex Goode on the bench in the only change to the 23 that defeated champions Wales 29-18 on Sunday.
“It’s great to be able to name an unchanged XV and we have been able to achieve consistency of selection in a very competitive squad this campaign,” Lancaster said.
With Goode removed from the bench, wings Jack Nowell and Jonny May are on standby to provide cover for Mike Brown at full-back if needed.
Tuilagi could have been fast-tracked into the matchday 23 that secured the Triple Crown against Wales at Twickenham, but Lancaster felt he needed another week in camp before being plunged into action.
England head to Rome with the primary objective of defeating Italy, but must also overhaul Ireland’s imposing points superiority in case the Six Nations title is decided by that measure.
France also remain in the hunt for Wales’ crown – they host Brian O’Driscoll’s men in Paris in the climax to the tournament – but with Ireland 49 ahead of England on points difference, they have established a near-unassailable lead. Mindful of the explosive impact Tuilagi could have on a tiring Italian defence, Lancaster has called up the destructive 22-year-old to reinforce the final push for the first major piece of silverware of his two-year reign as head coach.
England, who have finished Six Nations runners-up for the last two seasons, need a deluge of tries at the Stadio Olimpico and it is hoped Tuilagi’s power will be influential in the attempted points grab.
“The Wales result was very significant for us but we need to finish the tournament well in Rome,” Lancaster said.
“We have had a tight turnaround and the key this week has been to manage the players’ recovery and get them in the best shape for what will be a tough match against Italy.”
ENGLAND: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale), D Attwood (Bath), T Johnson (Exeter), L Dickson (Northampton), G Ford (Bath), M Tuilagi (Leicester).