Alec Hepburn could change the pecking order at loosehead for England
The 25-year-old front row has been in outstanding form for Exeter.
England debutant Alec Hepburn has been challenged to rip up the established order at loosehead prop against Italy on Sunday.
Hepburn is expected to win his first cap as a replacement in the Stadio Olimpico showdown in support of Mako Vunipola after injury and suspension robbed Eddie Jones of a host of options in the position.
Joe Marler, Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and Beno Obano are unavailable for the first assignment of the title defence in Rome, forcing Jones to turn to his sixth choice in Hepburn.
The 25-year-old front row has been in outstanding form for Exeter and scrum coach Neal Hatley predicts he will seize his chance in Rome.
“Alec has been part of a very good Exeter pack,” Hatley said.
“He has played some big games this season – against Leinster twice and against Montpellier, who are number one in the Top 14.
“He’s had some really good games and come out on top in a lot of those, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for him.
“He’s been part of a good scrummaging pack at Exeter and we are looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“We’ll find at one minute past three on Sunday whether he’s ready for the step up, but he has shown all the right signs and is working his backside off, so we are looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity for him to change the pecking order and that is how they all look at it.
“Alec’s first exposure to the England squad has been very good and the more pressure we an create the more competition the harder it forces the guys to improve.
“I think you make an assessment not over two weeks, it’s ongoing.”