England decide to put Croft on bench
Tom Croft's full recovery from the neck injury he sustained last April has been underlined by his selection for the England squad to face Italy at Twickenham in the Six Nations tomorrow.
The Leicester Tigers' forward is named among the replacements as England set about continuing their bid for the Championship and a Grand Slam.
Croft, playing in the back row, was outstanding against Sale Sharks last weekend as he made a second consecutive Tigers start for the first time since recovering from the serious injury he suffered against Harlequins.
The 27-year-old had been expected to miss the entire Six Nations campaign as he fought his way back to full fitness. However, he was recalled to the England squad this week by head coach Stuart Lancaster after his impressive display in helping to dismantle the Sharks.
Toby Flood will win his 56th cap as he is named at fly-half in place of the injured Owen Farrell.
Tigers' favourite Manu Tuilagi features at centre where he earns his 20th cap. However, Ben Youngs has to settle for a place on the bench with the scrum-half berth taken by Harlequins' Danny Care.
Tom Youngs, Dan Cole and Geoff Parling represent Tigers in the forwards, who are charged with the task of taking on an Italian pack which will include their Leicester colleague Martin Castrogiovanni.
Youngs comes in at hooker for Northampton's Dylan Hartley, while Cole wins his 39th cap at prop. Second-row Parling will be making his 16th appearance for England.
In all England make five changes to the side which beat France in their most recent game.
Saracens' prop Mako Vunipola makes his first start having won seven caps off the bench. He replaces Harlequins' Joe Marler while James Haskell (London Wasps) is named at blindside flanker in place of Northampton's Courtney Lawes.
"We were very happy with the way we finished the France game," Lancaster said. "The impact the replacements made shows that we have competition for places across the board and we have had to make some tight calls."
Though England start the game as strong favourites Lancaster expects the visitors to pose plenty of questions to his side.
"Italy will be highly motivated for this game and we will have to perform for the full 80 minutes," he said.
"I am sure those starting will seize their chance and the bench will also have a significant part to play as the game goes on.
"The support at Twickenham for the Scotland and France games was superb and I am sure the atmosphere will be fantastic again for our final home match of the Championship."
England: Alex Goode (Saracens); Chris Ashton (Saracens); Manu Tuilagi (Tigers); Brad Barritt (Saracens); Mike Brown (Harlequins); Toby Flood (Tigers); Danny Care (Harlequins); Mako Vunipola (Saracens); Tom Youngs (Tigers); Dan Cole (Tigers); Joe Launchbury (Wasps); Geoff Parling (Tigers); James Haskell (Wasps); Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, capt); Tom Wood (Northampton).
Rep: Dylan Hartley (Northampton); David Wilson (Bath); Joe Marler (Harlequins); Courtney Lawes (Northampton); Tom Croft (Tigers); Ben Youngs (Tigers); Freddie Burns (Gloucester); Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)