England prop David Wilson has been ruled out of the remaining four matches of the Six Nations with a neck injury that requires surgery.
Wilson suffered nerve impingement during training two weeks ago and while the initial prognosis on his availability for last Friday’s 21-16 victory over Wales was positive, he was subsequently ruled out.
The 29-year-old went to see a specialist on Wednesday when it was confirmed he will face 10-12 weeks on the sidelines, ensuring his availability for England’s World Cup training camp in June.
“David is out of the Six Nations unfortunately. He’s booked in for an operation to relieve the nerve impingement he has,” said head coach Stuart Lancaster.
“We are likely to see him back in 10-12 weeks, so he should be back for Bath by the end of the season.
“He’ll certainly be available for our World Cup camp in June, but he’s out of our Six Nations.”
The disappointment over Wilson is eased by Dan Cole’s successful return against Wales from a similar condition that also required surgery and the Leicester tighthead has been retained in an unchanged starting XV against Italy.
Lancaster also named the same replacements bench that helped subdue Wales in a pulsating opener at the Millennium Stadium.
It had been hoped Geoff Parling would be available as specialist second row cover at the expense of Nick Easter or Tom Croft, only for the Leicester lock to suffer a setback in his recovery from a knee injury.
Lancaster also gave consideration to recalling Brad Barritt, but decided the Saracens centre needed more game time before being plunged back into action after a three-month period interrupted by foot and knee injuries.
“Overall it was nice to select on the back of a positive performance, but there were some decisions to make at the start of the week,” said Lancaster, who named an unchanged starting XV for only the third time in his three-year stewardship.
“We were looking at Geoff for the bench, but when he pulled out on Monday that decision was made for us effectively.
“I had a long conversation with Brad, who was outstanding during the autumn. The reality is that he’s played very little rugby, so he’ll play for Saracens in the fallow week and will then have the opportunity to put his hand up for Ireland.”
England have never lost to Italy in 20 matches dating back to 1991, but have won by only seven points or fewer in three of their five most recent matches.
The rivals’ last meeting at Twickenham two years ago saw Lancaster’s men prevail just 18-11 through six penalties from Toby Flood.
England, who start as 1-100 match favourites, have finished Six Nations runners-up on points difference for the last two seasons and must seek to rout Italy knowing the Championship’s weakest team can also prove dogged opponents.
“Italy are a completely different challenge to Wales and I haven’t just reminded them of last year in Rome when we needed to win and put as much pressure on Ireland as we could,” added Lancaster.
“Just as important was two years ago when we only won 18-11. I was at pains to remind the players of the reasons why we struggled in that game.
“Italy were excellent that day, they worked hard at the breakdown, were very well organised defensively and were strong with a six-two bench. We struggled for long periods.
“When I look at their two most recent games against Ireland and South Africa, they showed they are a very competitive team, so we have to get our preparation right. Starting the game well is an area of improvement for us.
“We went 10-0 down against Wales and put ourselves in a difficult position, so we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again. That’s been a big talking point.”
England team to face Italy (tomorrow, 2.30pm): M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), L Burrell (Northampton Saints), J May (Gloucester); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), D Attwood (Bath), G Kruis (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester Tigers), M Vunipola (Saracens), K Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), N Easter (Harlequins), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), R, Wigglesworth (Saracens), D Cipriani (Sale Sharks), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).