Italy v England, Six Nations, February 14
Cole granted first England start
February 10, 2010

Leicester tight-head prop Dan Cole will make his full England debut in Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome.

England manager Martin Johnson has promoted the 22-year-old into the starting line-up to replace Bath's David Wilson, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury since last weekend's 30-17 victory over Wales. Brive centre Riki Flutey returns from injury in the only other change from the side that beat Wales in their Championship opener at Twickenham last weekend.

Cole made his Test debut off the bench at Twickenham after forcing his way into the senior England squad with a series of destructive performances in the Tigers' front row. Flutey had originally been named in the team last week but he was forced to withdraw two days before the game after picking up a dead leg in training.

Johnson has delayed the announcement of his replacements as he waits on a number of injury issues. Captain Steve Borthwick has missed training for the last two days and has been isolated from the rest of the squad after being laid low with an illness. Wilson and Lewis Moody were both in non-contact jerseys at training today while Simon Shaw also sat out the session. Johnson has kept Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw, Northampton lock Courtney Lawes and Worcester prop Matt Mullan with the squad

Johnson had no qualms in promoting Cole into the starting XV after watching him thrive at Leicester in the injury-enforced absence of veteran tightheads Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni.

"Dave Wilson took a bit of a knock last week so he has been limited in training and it is the perfect opportunity to bring Dan Cole in," said Johnson. "We are very pleased to do that. I thought he was impressive when he played last week and the way he has handled this week. He can do a good job for us. We knew there was potential in him and getting the opportunity at Leicester to play games, his development has been rapid over the last few months."

Cole was delighted with his call-up that caps a meteroric rise through the ranks this season. "This is a big surprise because at the start of the year I wouldn't have expected it," he said. "At the start of the season my goal would have been to establish myself in the Leicester side and become a reliable player that Cockers (Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill) trusts. You are not going to play for England unless you are playing for your club and so that was my aim at the beginning of the season."

Cole announced his extraordinary potential against Clermont Auvergne shortly before Christmas, when he dismantled the French international loose-head Lionel Faure. Less than a month later he repeated the trick, this time against his new England team-mate Tim Payne as Leicester's pack destroyed Wasps at Welford Road.

"The Wasps game got all the attention but it wasn't a one-off. We had been playing well before then. The Clermont game was a big step forward," said Cole. "It was a big pressure game against one of the best scrummaging teams in Europe. It was about proving to everyone you can deal with those situations. We did all right and we won the game."

England scrum coach Graham Rowntree, who has worked with Cole since his days in the Leicester academy, has backed him to rise to the challenge. "His temperament is his strength, he is tough but he doesn't go around banging his chest," said Rowntree. "We did think twice about playing him against Italy but we will take that chance because I know Dan can do it. He did a great job coming on against Wales last week and I have every confidence in him."

Cole puts his development down to working alongside the likes of White and Castrogiovanni, the Italian giant who he will face at the Stadio Flaminio this weekend. "Whitey and Castro set the standards. Castro is one that you watch and you try to achieve the same quality he does," said Cole, who went to the same Market Harborough school as Johnson. "He is probably telling the Italian pack to target the guy making his first start."

England team to play Italy at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome on Sunday, February 14; kick-off 2.30pm:

D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Flutey (Brive), U Monye (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), J Haskell (Stade Francais), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: TBC.


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