Grand Slam chasers England have been handed a fitness boost ahead of their third Six Nations match against Italy on Sunday (26 February) after Mako Vunipola was named in a 28-man squad to prepare for the clash at Pennyhill Park.
The highly-regarded loosehead prop missed nervy opening victories over France and Wales courtesy of a knee injury suffered before Christmas. Such an issue kept the 26-year-old out for two months, although he is now set to feature against the Azzurri at Twickenham after successfully coming through 70 minutes unscathed for club side Saracens during their 31-23 Aviva Premiership defeat to Gloucester on Friday evening. England head coach Eddie Jones was among the spectators at Kingsholm.
"We had an open mind as to how he (Vunipola) was going to go," Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said after his side's second consecutive loss. "He felt pretty good. I thought he did well, given he's been out for eight or nine weeks.
"Overall, I thought he was pretty decent. I am assuming he is going to play against Italy in some form, and I think the game-time he got tonight will have been important for him."
Mako's younger brother and teammate Billy has also been sidelined for the opening weeks of the Six Nations after sustaining knee ligament damage during the autumn defeat of Argentina. Despite Jones initially appearing hopeful that he would return in time for a potential title decider against Ireland on the final weekend, the dominant number eight, who underwent surgery in December, cast doubt upon his availability for that tough trip to Dublin after revealing that he thought he was approximately two to three weeks away from running again.
While not named in England's latest training squad, Billy Vunipola will join up with the national team on Tuesday in order to undergo a medical review. Leicester Tigers' uncapped Zimbabwe-born lock Mike Williams has been added to the group alongside Charlie Ewels and back row Teimana Harrison.
Talented playmaker Henry Slade is also included after providing a timely reminder of his quality for Exeter Chiefs over the weekend. Bath wing Anthony Watson should also play some part against perennial wooden spoon favourites Italy after recovering from a hamstring strain.