- England U20 sit top of the Six Nations table
- They beat Wales in the second round
- Feature on lock Nick Isiekwe, more
England Under 20 have made eight changes to their starting line-up for the 2017 Six Nations clash against Italy at the Northern Echo Arena on Friday night (7:45pm kick-off).
Jamie Blamire, Josh Caulfield, Ben Curry, Ciaran Knight and Alex Mitchell all start for the first time in the match which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Mix.
In addition, Harlequins wing Sam Aspland-Robinson returns after missing the match against Wales in Colwyn Bay. Saracens' Dominic Morris also starts at outside centre to earn his third England U20 cap.
Zach Mercer will captain the team following Ben Earl’s knee injury, which ruled him out of the tournament.
"Zach loves to chat among the group and isn't afraid of expressing his opinion. That coupled with his leadership qualities and experience meant that he was the first name that came to mind when we lost Ben through injury,” said England Under 20 coach Tom Williams.
Mercer, who has featured regularly in the Aviva Premiership for Bath this season, received the man of the match award against Wales. The 19-year old’s stand-out performance included a fantastic individual effort to score a late try that sealed England’s second win of the championship.
Rory Brand, Max Davies, Marcus Smith, Marcus Street and Henry Walker are named among the replacements and could all make their England U20 debuts.
Harlequins fly-half Smith and Exeter Chiefs front rower Street have been promoted from the England Under 18 squad after impressing in last week’s Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy Finals Day at Sixways Stadium.
England U20 squad to face Italy U20:
15. Tom Parton (London Irish), 14. Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins), 13. Dominic Morris (Saracens), 12. Max Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie), 11. Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), 10. Jacob Umaga (Wasps), 9. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), 1. Ollie Dawe (Bristol Rugby), 2. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons), 3. Ciaran Knight (Gloucester Rugby), 4. Josh Caulfield (Exeter Chiefs), 5. Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), 6. Josh Bayliss, 7. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks), 8. Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby - captain).
Replacements: 16. Henry Walker (Gloucester Rugby), 17. Alex Seville (Gloucester Rugby), 18. Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), 19. Max Davies (Newcastle Falcons), 20. Ted Hill (Worcester), 21. Rory Brand (London Irish), 22. Marcus Smith (Harlequins), 23. Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish).
Stats and facts:
- England U20s have begun their Six Nations campaign with a pair of maximum point victories and extended their winning run to seven games at this level.
- England U20 have won their last six home games in all tournaments since Wales beat them at Ashton Gate in round 4 last year.
- Darlington’s Northern Echo Arena hosts only its second Six Nations game after England beat Scotland there two years ago.
- Italy U20’s last victory in the Six Nations was when they overcame Scotland in February 2014 in Fontanafredda, since then they have suffered a run of 14 successive losses in the Championship.
- Italy’s only away win since they joined the U20 Six Nations in 2008 came on a trip to Scotland in 2011. The two sides have met on twelve previous occasions at U20 level with England victorious in each instance.
England U20’s 2017 Six Nations fixtures:
All of the home England U20 Six Nations fixtures will be shown live on Sky Sports.
England 59 v 17 France: Saturday 4th February – Sandy Park, Exeter.
Wales 21 - 37 England: Friday 10th February – Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay.
England v Italy: Friday 24th February – Northern Echo Arena, Darlington. (KO 7:45pm)
England v Scotland: Saturday 11th March – Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton. (KO 6:15pm)
Ireland v England: Friday 17th March – Donnybrook Stadium. (KO 6:00pm)