Mako Vunipola in line for England return against Italy


Eddie Jones is hopeful of having Mako Vunipola available for England's Six Nations game against Italy, as the prop prepares to return from injury for Saracens this week.

Vunipola - one of the standout performers during Jones' tenure to date - missed the narrow victories over France and Wales due to a knee problem.

Yet head coach Jones expects to have the 26-year-old back in his squad for next weekend's match at Twickenham.

"Mako has a big chance," said Jones. "He will play for his club this week [in a Premiership fixture at Gloucester on Friday] and if he gets through that game OK we will bring him into camp for the Italy week."

Jones also provided a positive update on Billy Vunipola, who has also been sidelined with a knee injury.

"He might get back for [England's final Six Nations match against] Ireland," added the Australian. "He'd be pretty useful off the bench!"

Anthony Watson is anticipated to provide England with another boost by returning against Italy, while Jamie George has been tipped to start at hooker in place of skipper Dylan Hartley, who was replaced after just 46 minutes in Saturday's victory over Wales.

Explaining the decision to replace Hartley with George so early in the match, Jones said: "Every decision is made on the ability of the player to work.

"When they start to drop off - we have parameters for how quickly they get off the ground - and when they start getting slow off the ground we make a change. It's got nothing to do with anything else."

Owen Farrell is likely to lead England against Italy should Hartley be left out of the starting XV for the first time in Jones' reign.