But the 22-year-old has made such an impact in his breakthrough season at Welford Road he was yesterday named in England’s starting XV for Sunday’s Six Nations clash with Italy.
Cole, who appeared off the bench as a second-half replacement in England’s 30-17 victory over Wales last weekend, makes his full debut in place of Bath’s David Wilson.
England manager Martin Johnson has made one other change for the Valentine’s Day trip to Rome, with Riki Flutey restored at inside centre following his recovery from a dead leg.
Selection for England completes a remarkable rise for Cole, who has made only 22 senior starts for Leicester. This time last year he was sent out on loan to first division club Nottingham.
Cole’s ambitions at the start of the campaign were limited to establishing himself at Leicester as a genuine rival to the Tigers’ tighthead veterans Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni.
But a series of destructive performances – particularly against Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup and Wasps in the Guinness Premiership – thrust him straight into England contention.
“This is a big surprise because at the start of the year I wouldn’t have expected it,” Cole said.
Cole announced his extraordinary potential against Clermont Auvergne shortly before Christmas, when he dismantled the French international loose-head Lionel Faure.
Less than a month later he repeated the trick, this time against his new England team-mate Tim Payne as Leicester’s pack destroyed Wasps at Welford Road.
England captain Steve Borthwick and lock Simon Shaw both missed training yesterday through illness while Lewis Moody and Wilson wore non-contact vests – but Johnson is confident they will all be fit to play in Rome. Nevertheless, he has delayed the announcement of his bench until tomorrow.
Italy coach Nick Mallett has been forced to make two changes to his 24-man squad.
Valerio Bernabo and Pablo Canavosio return to the national team in place of Carlo Antonio Del Fava and Simon Picone who were both unavailable for selection after they sustained injuries during training this week.
Del Fava suffered a right knee injury and is set to undergo an operation that will sideline him for at least a month.
Meanwhile Chris Cusiter denied Scotland are praying for rain by refusing to allow the Millennium Stadium roof to be closed during Saturday’s clash with Wales.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has questioned opposite number Andy Robinson’s “sanity” after it emerged he had requested the roof be left open, regardless of the playing conditions.
The roof cannot be closed unless both teams agree on the matter and it is understood Robinson believes he is well within his rights to demand it stay open.
He is also determined to deny the home side any advantage, both in terms of the weather and also the improved atmosphere a closed roof can provide.
Scotland lock Nathan Hines has been ruled out of the game after suffering a calf injury. Edinburgh’s Jim Hamilton will replace him.
Italy squad: Ricardo Bocchino (Rovigo), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Gonzalo Canale (Clermont), Andrea Masi (Racing Metro Paris), Luke McLean (Benetton Treviso), Gonzalo Garcia (Treviso), Craig Gower (Bayonne), Kaine Robertson (Viadana), Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso), Tito Tebaldi (Gran Parma), Pablo Canavosio (Viadana), Paul Derbyshire (Petrarca Padova); Matias Aguero (Saracens), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Marco Bortolami (Gloucester), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Quintin Geldenhuys (Viadana), Valerio Bernabo (Rugby Roma), Salvatore Perugini (Bayonne), Josh Sole (Viadana), Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso), Fabio Ongaro (Saracens).