Maro Itoje looks on ahead of the Six Nations rugby match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium – Getty Images/Julian Finney
“Itoje was calmer than usual – but still on track”
By Charlie Morgan
We saw by the omissions of Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi – not to mention Jonny Hill, Jonny May and Jack Nowell – that Steve Borthwick will not be afraid to leave his mark on this English part with big calls. I think Maro Itoje should be part of the way forward.
He has undoubtedly weathered quieter games over the past year, including the Premiership final. The loss to Scotland on Saturday is probably one of them. Itoje’s greatest strength is defensive disruption and he tends to perform best in games where the opposition dominates possession. Just a year ago against Ireland, he put in one of the best individual performances by an England player in recent memory.
Over the weekend, Ollie Chessum’s carry performance was better. The Leicester Tigers man covered 49 yards while Itoje managed just five. The latter draws criticism for shots on goal and has conceded a goal each half – the first for being overweight when Jackal attempted and the second for not retiring for offside when the Scotland attacked ahead of England’s 22. It’s worth pointing out that Chessum also recorded two equally avoidable sentences. Otherwise, Itoje collected 12 tackles without missing one.
Only Ben Curry, who made 13 and missed four, did more for England. As England’s roster caller, three wasted throws and a helpless maul ended up frustrating Itoje. Even so, the variation in the design of Ellis Genge’s attempt was impressive. Itoje dove deeper and hit 44 jerks, according to Opta. Jamie George was next on that list at 43, followed by Chessum at 31. Itoje emptied the tank.
England might need a heavier field in games against different teams, which might prompt a rethink if Chessum’s influence continues to grow. Chessum lined up behind his tight props in Saturday’s scrimmage, suggesting he is the stronger of the two in this area. David Ribbans is a talented player and Courtney Lawes will eventually return, but England are undoubtedly lacking a lumpy lock like Frenchman Paul Willemse.
Joe Launchbury could come back into the equation, which could mean the choice of moving Chessum to the blindside or dropping Itoje. The latter, of course, would require someone else to call the line out. Borthwick will not neglect this important aspect of the game.
“There is no scenario where Itoje is abandoned”
By Charles Richardson
Maro Itoje is a victim of his own success. He burst onto the stage and immediately delivered performances at a stunning level that he has largely maintained ever since. We rate Itoje extremely high now – and rightly so – but that means if he falls slightly below world class like he did against Scotland, it will be noticed and commented on.
For the British and Irish Lions, England and Saracens, Itoje has been a standout player and his impressive club form this season should not be overlooked. Silent play cannot replace that.
Maro Itoje takes on Scotsman Pierre Schoeman – Getty Images/Alex Davidson
Leading the roster is a crucial role and it’s hard to judge from the outside how successful it has been. Granted, England lost three alone over the weekend, but only those in the English camp will know who is to blame for those particular incidents. However, the fundamental importance of the line-out caller is indisputable, and changing this will cause further disruption in a new configuration.
I don’t see a scenario where Steve Borthwick would drop Itoje, which is a position I agree with.
“The overreaction to Itoje’s recent performances has been hysterical”
By Ben Cole
England shouldn’t miss Maro Itoje and I don’t think they will. Some of the overreaction to his recent performances has bordered on hysteria, especially as we are only one game away from the Championship.
With England suffering a first-round defeat and Italy showing a lot of potential against France, Steve Borthwick can’t afford to leave Itoje out.
England have only a few players who could be considered world-class and Itoje is one of them, with injured Tom Curry the other top candidate for this group. Itoje’s six or seven out of ten performance is more efficient than the nine out of ten performance of most other castles.
I think most international coaches would laugh at anyone in the room who suggested dropping Itoje.
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