Fraser Dingwall and Ethan Roots handed England debuts against Italy

Fraser Dingwall in action for Northampton Saints Fraser Dingwall will make his England debut against Italy (Joe Giddens/PA)

England have given debuts to centre Fraser Dingwall and flanker Ethan Roots for Saturday’s 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.

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.

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.”

England team to play Italy in Six Nations

Forwards: 1 Joe Marler (Harlequins), 2 Jamie George (CAPTAIN, Saracens), 3 Will Stuart (Bath Rugby), 4 Maro Itoje (Saracens), 5 Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers), 6 Ethan Roots (Exeter Chiefs), 7 Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), 8 Ben Earl (Saracens)

Backs: 9 Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), 10 George Ford (Sale Sharks), 11 Elliot Daly (Saracens), 12 Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), 13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), 14 Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints), 15 Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers)

Replacements: 16 Theo Dan (Saracens), 17 Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears), 18 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), 19 Alex Coles (Northampton Saints), 20 Chandler Cunningham-South (Harlequins), 21 Danny Care (Harlequins), 22 Fin Smith (Northampton Saints), 23 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs)

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