Six Nations: Mako Vunipola set to return for England against Italy

Mako Vunipola
Vunipola played for 70 minutes in Saracens match against Gloucester on Friday
Six Nations: England v Italy
Venue: Twickenham Date: Sunday, 26 February Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

Mako Vunipola is set to make his first appearance in this year's Six Nations after being included in a 28-man England training squad for Sunday's game against Italy at Twickenham.

The 26-year-old returned for Saracens against Gloucester on Friday after two months out with knee-ligament damage.

He is likely to feature from the bench, with Joe Marler set to retain his starting role at loose-head prop.

England are looking to extend their winning streak to 17 matches.

Scrum coach Neal Hatley said Vunipola's form was "outstanding" last year but praised Marler's performances in victories over France and Wales in the opening two rounds of this year's championship.

"Joe technically in the scrum has been outstanding, defensively he's been very attritional, he's been hitting hard at the line and rucking aggressively," Hatley told BBC Sport.

"He has put himself in a really good position at the moment."

Fellow prop Dan Cole called Vunipola a "world-class" player, who offers England "something unique" after improving over the past two years.

"He's always had that ball-carrying ability and made big hits in defence but you've seen his work rate massively increase recently and his set piece improve," added tight-head Cole.

Mako's younger brother Billy Vunipola has also joined up with the squad for a medical check-up as he continues his recovery from knee-ligament damage, with Hatley hopeful the number eight may yet play a part in this year's Six Nations.

"There is always hope we will get him back involved, but we will know a lot more after the early part of this week," said Hatley.

England's 28-man training squad:

Forwards: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester), Charlie Ewels (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Teimana Harrison (Northampton), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), James Haskell (Wasps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Mike Williams (Leicester), Tom Wood (Northampton).

Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Jonny May (Gloucester), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Henry Slade (Exeter), Ben Te'o (Worcester), Anthony Watson (Bath), Ben Youngs (Leicester).

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