England welcome two large figures back to their Pennyhill Park training base this week after it was confirmed that Mako Vunipola had been named in a 28-man squad for this Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Italy, with his younger brother Billy an additional inclusion to provide an update on his recovery from injury.
Mako Vunipola played in his first match for nine weeks last Friday as he started Saracens’ 31-23 defeat by Gloucester, having recovered from damaged knee ligaments that threatened to keep him out of the entire Six Nations championship.
The 26-year-old looked sharp on his return despite a second consecutive loss for the reigning Premiership champions, and as promised, Eddie Jones has responded by including him in an enlarged 28-man squad.
The absence of both Leicester Tigers prop Ellis Genge and Matt Mullan of Wasps almost guarantees Vunipola’s inclusion in Sunday’s encounter at Twickenham, with Joe Marler the only other recognised loosehead prop in the squad.
Despite not being named in the 28-man party, Billy Vunipola will also join up with the squad this week in Surrey so that the England camp can monitor his own recovery from knee ligament damage. Jones has talked up Vunipola’s return for England’s final Six Nations match against Ireland in Dublin on 18 March, but the Saracens No 8 played down his chances at the weekend and appeared to rule himself out of the tournament completely.
“I have still got a while to go – hopefully I will be running soon,” Vunipola told The Sun. “I think it’ll be two or three weeks so I probably won’t make the Ireland game.
It will be tough for me to put pressure on myself so it is probably a bit unfair to say I will come straight back into th
“There is a lot of work for myself to do and, up to this point, the physio team and the strength and conditioning group have done a great job.
“So I shall keep my head down and when I am back, I am back, but I am not expecting to walk straight back into the England team.
“It will be tough for me to put pressure on myself so it is probably a bit unfair to say I will come straight back into the fold.”
James Haskell is also named among a pack of 15 forwards, with the Wasps flanker poised for a larger role as he continues to step up his return from a toe injury that forced him to miss more than seven months of the season.
Included in the 12-man backline that Jones has retained is Henry Slade and Ben Te’o, with both pushing to be included in this weekend’s encounter. Te’o has been impressive off the replacements’ bench in both of England’s opening victories over France and Wales, while Slade’s performance in the Exeter Chiefs’ 48-32 victory over Worcester Warriors at the weekend provided Jones with a timely reminder of his qualities.
Anthony Watson is also included, with the Bath wing poised to start against the pointless Italians after missing both of England’s matches so far this year with a hamstring injury.
Six Nations team of the weekend – round two
England’s 28-man training squad:
Jack Clifford (Harlequins)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby)
Jamie George (Saracens)
Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
James Haskell (Wasps)
Nathan Hughes (Wasps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers)
Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Danny Care (Harlequins)
Elliot Daly (Wasps)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
George Ford (Bath Rugby)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)