Gustard on fitness, Hartley and Italy

England face Italy on 26 February in their third game of the RBS 6 Nations, having beaten France and Wales so far in this year's tournament.

Defence coach Paul Gustard has updated the media on the fitness of key members of the squad, the influence of captain Dylan Hartley during this 'fallow week', the challenge of Italy as well as bonding off the pitch.

Can you give us some injury updates on Nathan Hughes, Mako Vunipola and Anthony Watson?

"Nathan has a small tweak on his knee, it is nothing concerning. The hope with Mako is he will have a 40-minute involvement with Saracens this weekend, either starting or off the bench. Anthony (who had been missing with a hamstring injury) is all good."

The squad went bowling at All Star Lanes today, what was the thinking behind that? Are you hoping to create a club environment?

"We are hoping to create some good memories on the pitch as well as off it where we can socialise and get to know each other a little bit better.

"We have the fallow weeks where we stay together as a group.

"We have mini camps which haven’t always been done before, before our tours we get together a little bit earlier for a week of preparation and then we are away for four weeks.

"There is a longer period now under the heads of agreement where we can stay together. We want to try and foster as much relationship-building as we can. Whether we’ll ever be a complete club is unlikely, but I think when the guys come in they are energised when they come into this environment."

How important is captain Dylan Hartley during this period?

"Dylan is the captain of our team and it is important he trains with us and stays with us.

"He adds the on-field captaincy which can be as trivial as flipping a coin before the start of a game to actions within the game. He is the leader of our scrum along with Dan Cole, he is the person who has a relationship with the referee before the game and communicates to the group after a score.

"Off the pitch, during the week, he leads things. Whether that be the tactics meeting with the senior playing group, discussing with Eddie Jones about how we are training, be it the game plan for Italy. He is heavily involved with those things and a lot goes through Dylan. He does that brilliantly.

"He has a great relationship with Eddie, there is mutual respect and it is important we listen to the players."

What are the key things this week ahead of Italy next weekend?

“In three words: We get better.

“Italy are going to come across, desperate to do well. Off the back of two defeats they will be keen for victory, but no more so than we are.

"We are at home, we want to win the Test match as it is the next one we play and obviously down the road there is a bigger prize to play for. We are fully focused on Italy, our attention turned to them immediately after the Wales game."