Hepburn is backed to seize chance
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.
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 has been in outstanding form for Exeter and scrum coach Neal Hatley predicts he will seize his chance.
"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 No.1 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.
"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 squad has been good and the more pressure we can create for more competition, the harder it forces the guys to improve. You don't make an assessment over two weeks, it's ongoing."