Lightweight Simmonds can make Six Nations impact, says Borthwick

Exeter No 8 makes his Six Nations debut for England against Italy in Rome on Sunday

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Sam Simmonds takes part in sprint training during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on February 2, 2018 in Bagshot, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England forwards coach Steve Borthwick has backed Sam Simmonds to make up in pace what he lacks in physical presence when the Exeter No 8 makes his Six Nations debut against Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Simmonds is some 12 kilograms lighter than England first-choice No 8 Billy Vunipola.

But with Vunipola (arm), Nathan Hughes (knee) and Zach Mercer (illness) unfit, and the experienced James Haskell suspended, England have given a fourth cap to Simmonds, who made his Test debut against Argentina in November.

"Sam did very, very well during the autumn series," Borthwick told reporters at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

"He is quick off the base of the scrum, he finds space when he carries and is very hard-working," added the former England captain.

Simmonds' opposite number on Saturday will be Italy captain Sergio Parisse but Borthwick was confident the Exeter man would hold his own against one of the outstanding No 8s in world rugby.

"He [Simmonds] is quick. He can run with our backs he's that quick," the former lock added.

"He has some real ability and has a great attitude to go with it."


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Title-holders England are bidding to become the first team in the history of the Six Nations, through all its guises, to win three successive outright championships.

But a revamped pack has seen Courtney Lawes installed at blindside flanker, with Maro Itoje alongside Joe Launchbury in the second row

"You need a balance of ball-carrying across your back-row," Borthwick said.

"Look at Lawes' footwork and the way Sam finds space. There are different types of carriers and that mix is a positive."

Italy have not won a Six Nations match since a 22-19 success away to Scotland in 2015. They have lost all 23 times they have played England but have come close several times. Borthwick was involved in England sides that scraped 23-19 and 17-12 wins in the Italian capital in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

More recently, the Azzurri, under the guidance of their Irish coach Conor O'Shea, embarrassed England with their no-ruck ploy at Twickenham last year before losing 36-15.

"Italy have some very good players and also a very experienced coaching staff, so we know they'll be very well prepared," said Borthwick.

"They have one or two new faces and what that's meant is that we have focused upon our preparation so that our players are ready for whatever is in front of them," he explained.

"This is international rugby and these games are always intense encounters and we're expecting that intensity against Italy."