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England star in line for selection despite injury concerns

Injured England lock Maro Itoje is “definitely” in contention to line up against Wales in this week’s Six Nations clash according to England defence coach John Mitchell.

The revelation comes after the 30-test second rower was initially expected to sit out the remainder of the Six Nations due to ligament damage suffered in his knee during England’s February 2 win over Ireland in Dublin.

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A major injury blow for England, with lock Maro Itoje ruled out for the rest of the tournament with medial ligament damage. ? #sixnations #6nations #IREvENG #englandrugby #ohno #itsmaro #twickenham #saracensrugby #gallagherprem #rugby? #englishrugby #premrugby

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However, he has recovered quicker than anticipated, with Mitchell saying he joins the previously injured Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley, who are both in contention to be selected for the final three matches of the Six Nations.

“Ashton will probably be back Italy week,” Mitchell told Sky Sports.

“He has just got a slight calf strain. It just got a bit tight last week.

“Otherwise everyone is pretty good. Dylan [Hartley] is back at his club rehabbing and Maro is day by day and progressing nicely.”

With Ashton confirmed to be absent from this weekend’s blockbuster clash between the tournament’s only two undefeated nations, Jack Nowell has emerged as a prime candidate to fill his spot, although Mitchell alluded to other contenders being in the selection frame.

“Nowell is pretty handy. His first performance was very good. He is very good in the air and he has got a huge work rate,” he said.

“But then there is Joe Cokanasiga and we have got Ollie Thorley, who is a longshot but is really, really improving his skillset and is extremely physical.”

Cokanasiga pleased Mitchell in his try-scoring return from a two-month knee ligament injury during Newcastle’s loss to Bath on Saturday.

“That was pleasing for Joe, given his long-term injury,” Mitchell said.

“Being with us, you can do all the conditioning you like but at the end of the day you have got to play.

“I think wingers are like football strikers – you have got to score tries and that brings confidence. So getting through the game and scoring [was good for him].”

Despite his extended absence from the game, Mitchell made it clear the two-test Fijian-born 21-year-old is still a firm favourite within the national set-up.

“He has got such raw strength and acceleration. He is really coachable. He is really enjoyable to coach as well and he looks like he enjoys training which are all pleasing aspects.

“It is ultimately up to ourselves and himself to get him in a state where he is totally confident at this level again.”

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England star in line for selection despite injury concerns