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England duo back

Thursday, February 01, 2018

SIX Nations champions England have received a timely boost, and head coach Eddie Jones an unexpected birthday present, ahead of their 2018 campaign opener against Italy with several players returning from injury ahead of schedule.

Flanker Chris Robshaw, lock Maro Itoje and fullback Mike Brown have all been cleared to play, while winger Jack Nowell is also back in training, though Sunday's game in Rome will come to early for him.

"The injury news is the best birthday present of all," said Jones, who turned 58 on Tuesday.

"In the old days they used to have magic sponges when you would be down and out and the guy would come out with a yellow sponge, put it on you and you'd recover.

"Well, the magic sponges are back. Nowell wasn't supposed to do a fitness session on Friday, but he did it, as did Brownie."

Itoje fractured his jaw while playing for Saracens last month and then injured his hip, while Brown was suffering from blurred vision and Robshaw and Nowell from back and ankle injuries, respectively.

England are still missing several key players, including number eight Billy Vunipola, who has a broken arm, and suspended duo Joe Marler and James Haskell.

"It's great to have all the squad in place because out of our top 30 players, we have probably got about 25 percent of them out," Jones said. "So to have these guys come back into contention is absolutely outstanding."

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