England set to deploy experienced half-back duo for Six Nations opener

  • Both Marcus Smith and Northampton’s Alex Mitchell are out injured for the game
  • Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall is on course for a debut in the No 12 shirt
  • The pack should have a more familiar feel, with Joe Marler lining up at loosehead

England are set deploy 189 Test caps of half-back experience in Rome on Saturday, with Danny Care and George Ford poised to join forces for the Six Nations opener against Italy.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has been forced into a hasty selection re-think after Marcus Smith was ruled out of the match with a calf injury and Alex Mitchell’s participation has been left in serious doubt. 

The Northampton scrum-half has been on a drip after a leg wound became infected – and he has been unable to train this week at the national squad’s camp in Girona, northern Spain.

While Mitchell will be given as long as possible to recover in order to take his place among England’s replacements for the clash with the Azzurri, it is understood that 37-year-old Care is likely to take his place in the starting XV. 

The Harlequins veteran – who will make his 97th international appearance – is expected to form a creative alliance with Ford, the Sale fly-half who will win a 92nd Test cap.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has been forced into a hasty selection re-think after Marcus Smith was ruled out

Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall looks set to be handed his debut in the No 12 shirt

Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall looks set to be handed his debut in the No 12 shirt

That combination will give England plenty of pedigree and nous, in the midst of an overhauled line-up which will feature several rookies. 

In the back line, Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall is on course for a debut in the No 12 shirt – in a new midfield axis alongside the recalled Henry Slade – while another Saint, Tommy Freeman, is set to start on the wing and club-mate Fin Smith will under-study Ford, as the uncapped, back-up fly-half.

Up front, another newcomer – Exeter flanker Ethan Roots – is primed to go straight into the XV at blindside, after making a huge impression on Borthwick with his hard-grafting work for the Chiefs this season. 

Elsewhere, the pack should have a more familiar feel, with Joe Marler lining up at loosehead prop ahead of Ellis Genge and Bath’s Will Stuart packing down on the other side of captain Jamie George, at tighthead.

If Mitchell is ruled out, Ben Spencer would act as the reserve scrum-half, while young, Cardiff-born Exeter wing sensation, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso – who opted to represent England rather than Wales – is in contention for a bench role.

Borthwick is opting for an overhauled line-up which will feature several rookies

Borthwick is opting for an overhauled line-up which will feature several rookies

Marcus Smith was ruled out of England's Six Nations opener against Italy

Marcus Smith was ruled out of England’s Six Nations opener against Italy

Northampton scrum-half Alex Mitchell is a serious doubt for the rest of the Six Nations series

Northampton scrum-half Alex Mitchell is a serious doubt for the rest of the Six Nations series

England are set deploy 189 Test caps of half-back experience in Rome on Saturday

England are set deploy 189 Test caps of half-back experience in Rome on Saturday

ENGLAND TEAM (probable) 

F Steward (Leicester); T Freeman (Northampton), H Slade (Exeter), F Dingwall (Northampton), E Daly (Saracens); G Ford (Sale), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), J George (capt), W Stuart (Bath); M Itoje (Saracens), O Chessum (Leicester); E Roots (Exeter), B Earl (Saracens), S Underhill (Bath). 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk