EDDIE Jones is banking on Courtney Lawes to put the stranglehold on Italy.
The England head coach heaped praise on his Northampton ‘enforcer’ for the string of outstanding performances which have helped him hold down a second row spot.
However, Lawes whom Jones says has “a large food tray always parked outside his room” has been laid low by a stomach bug although he should be fully fit for Rome on Sunday
Jones said: “Courtney was one of our leading players in every game in last year’s Six Nations. And every time he played for the Lions he was sheer quality.
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“It’s the same when he plays for Northampton. He makes an impact on the game all the time. He’s always been a great defender and now he has become a really effective ball carrier.
“The thing which has impressed me with Courtney is his consistency. He does his set piece work pretty well and the opportunity for him now is to cement that.
“His whole attitude has changed. When I first took over I would say his attitude was reasonably indifferent. But now he’s so thirsty to keep improving and keep learning.
“He is lightly framed, he is built like a basketball player and it is hard for him to keep his weight up.”
Jones has warned his players they must act smart and disciplined on the field.
The Aussie said: “It’s not the number of penalties that’s the problem it is where and when you give them away.”
England will be without Exeter centre Henry Slade for the first four weeks of the tournament with a shoulder injury.
The 24-year-old playmaker sustained the injury during Exeter’s defeat to Glasgow last weekend.
Kyle Sinckler, Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Jack Nowell are all injury doubts for the opening game in Rome.
Jones said: “Slade has got a reasonably significant shoulder injury.
“Sinckler is getting further examination on a hamstring injury and Brown is slowly recovering.
“Robshaw is recovering from his back so he is borderline and Nowell has probably got another three or four weeks to go, so it is a great opportunity for young players.”
Saracens’ Billy Vunipola and Wasps duo Nathan Hughes and Elliot Daly have both already been ruled out of the Six Nations.
Mike Brown, Nathan Earle, Harry Mallinder, Jonny May, Denny Solomona, Anthony Watson, Danny Care, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Alex Lozowski, Jack Nowell, Ben Te’o, Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs.
Gary Graham, James Haskell, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Zach Mercer, Chris Robshaw, Sam Simmonds, Sam Underhill, Lewis Boyce, Dan Cole, Tom Dunn, Jamie George, Dylan Hartley, Alec Hepburn, Joe Marler, Henry Thomas, Mako Vunipola, Harry Williams.
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