Rugby

Ethan Roots and Fraser Dingwall handed England debuts against Italy

There are three more uncapped players on the bench for the Six Nations opener while George Ford gets the nod to start at fly-half.

Ethan Roots, left, and Fraser Dingwall start for England
Ethan Roots, left, and Fraser Dingwall start for England Ethan Roots, left, and Fraser Dingwall start for England

England have given debuts to centre Fraser Dingwall and flanker Ethan Roots for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has also named three uncapped players on the bench in back-rower Chandler Cunningham-South, fly-half Fin Smith and wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

“Winning a first cap for your country is always a very special occasion,” Borthwick said.

“We’re delighted for the debutants who have all worked incredibly hard to get themselves selected in the 23 to face Italy. I know Saturday will be a very proud moment for the players and their families.

“My message to them this week has been to be themselves, to grasp their opportunity, and to play with the strengths and skills that deservedly got them selected to a strong Six Nations squad.”

Alex Mitchell has overcome an infected cut on his leg to form a half-back axis with George Ford, who is named as one of two vice-captains alongside Maro Itoje with Jamie George leading the team out at the Stadio Olimpico.

Ford has edged rookie Fin Smith for the number 10 jersey after Marcus Smith was ruled out of the round one clash because of a calf problem and he will direct a midfield partnership of Dingwall and Henry Slade.

George Ford starts at fly-half
George Ford George Ford starts at fly-half (David Davies/PA)

Tommy Freeman wins his fourth cap and first since 2022 on the right wing as reward for an impressive season at Gallagher Premiership pace-setters Northampton, who also supply Dingwall and Mitchell to the starting back line.

Joe Marler and Will Stuart are the preferred props, keeping Ellis Genge and Dan Cole on the bench, while Itoje and Ollie Chessum are paired together in a familiar-looking lock duo.

Roots has big boots to fill after being chosen to start in the number six jersey worn by Courtney Lawes until his international retirement after the World Cup, with Ben Earl continuing at number eight and Sam Underhill at openside.

Roots played for the Maori All Blacks but has been a revelation at Exeter this season after arriving at Sandy Park having spent two seasons at the Ospreys.

Ethan Roots’ form with Exeter has earned him a debut
Ethan Roots Ethan Roots’ form with Exeter has earned him a debut (Richard Sellers/PA)

Italy have never beaten England in 30 previous attempts but Borthwick refuses to take victory for granted.

“After an excellent week’s preparation in Girona, we look forward to the challenge of playing Italy in Rome,” Borthwick said.

“The Azzurri are a dangerous team, with some talented ball-carriers and players who like to find space. We’ll need to make good decisions, keep our discipline, and maintain a level of intensity to our performance from the first whistle to the last.”