Maro Itoje’s absence will not hit England too hard due to the “remarkable” strength in depth at Eddie Jones’ disposal, says Rugby World Cup winner Lewis Moody.
Saracens star Itoje, considered one of the best locks in the game, sustained a ligament injury to his right knee during the superb 32-20 opening-round Six Nations win against defending Grand Slam champions Ireland on Saturday.
England confirmed on Tuesday that Itoje will definitely miss this weekend’s contest against France at Twickenham, while reports suggest he will also be out for the trip to Wales on February 23.
Itoje is expected to play a part in the closing rounds of the tournament and, in the meantime, Moody – a member of England’s victorious 2003 World Cup team – is sure the likes of George Kruis, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes will fill the void.
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“This is no discredit to Maro because he’s an absolutely wonderful player and I love watching him, but where England are at the minute compared to other home nations is just the remarkable strength in depth,” Moody, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, told Omnisport.
“Maro went off and you ended up with [number eight] Nathan Hughes playing in the second row. To bring Courtney Lawes on – he’s a world-class player, in any other side in the world he’d be starting and there’s also Joe Launchbury.
“You’ve got four second-rows there that could start in any other team in the home nations, they are absolutely brilliant.
“So, the amount of pressure coming on each and every player to perform week in and week out [is high] because the amount of players queueing up underneath them is remarkable.
“As a coach that is exactly what you want, you don’t want players resting on their laurels thinking their place is assured, you want everyone thinking ‘Christ, if I don’t play well today I could potentially lose my spot’.
“And that just drives everyone’s performance and that’s why we’re seeing England play as they did at the weekend because it’s not just in the second row, it’s in the back row, the front row, fly-half, centres, wing, it’s just wonderful to watch at the minute and wonderful to watch Eddie Jones pick from virtually a fully fit squad.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 6, 2019
Powerhouses Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola have seen their respective England careers blighted by injuries in recent years, but both started in Dublin and Moody believes the duo make a huge difference to Jones’ side.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that without Billy Vunipola, England are a different team,” he added.
“I think the players he plays against, they know how dangerous he is and it’s not just the danger he poses of running over you as a defender, it’s getting past the gainline and being able to offload out of contact.
“His presence creates space outside him because it attracts more defenders into the hit. It’s one thing trying to make the tackle [but] it’s another trying to stop the offload, all of a sudden that drags defenders in and creates space out wide for everyone else.
“It’s the same case for Manu Tuilagi, you look at the opportunities created at the weekend and many of them were off the back of them two carrying the ball hard and creating space out wide in attack for others.
“On the flip side in defence, look at some of the hits Manu put in. So many were just well timed and that’s what he can bring, that destructive power in the tackle in the centres.
“It wasn’t just Manu or Bill on Saturday, you look at the defensive prowess across the board. The stat that blew me away at the weekend – the tackle count was quite equal – but it was the dominant hits, it was nearly 50 dominant hits, which is a crazy amount.
“Normally you’re looking at 10 to 20 if you’re lucky. Nearly 50 in a game, you as a defender smashing the attacker back over his own gainline, that to me just says this is a proper team performance.”
Lewis Moody is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover shares and understands the values of rugby. @LandRoverRugby
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