Maro Itoje arrived into the 2021 Guinness Six Nations amid speculation that the tournament would be the springboard for him to play well with England and demonstrate why he should be the captain of the Lions tour against the Springboks if that particular series goes ahead.
However, his championship hasn’t turned out as he would have liked. As a relegated Saracens player, he made do with a mini pre-season over the winter rather than have any club matches to play in between the December 6 Autumn Nations Cup final and the February 6 Six Nations opener.
It left his game looking a touch rusty and his efforts to get back to being a player at the very top of his world-class game suffered another blow when he coughed up five penalties during the round three England loss to Wales.
Having conceded five penalties across England’s other two matches, Itoje has accounted for ten of the 41 penalties conceded by Eddie Jones’ side in their three February outings and in an effort to now lighten that load on the star second row, Jonny Hill has been dropped to the bench with Charlie Ewels promoted.
It will be a 20th Test cap for the Bath lock but only his second ever Six Nations start, his last coming 13 months ago when England were beaten by France in Paris at the start of the 2020 championship.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 12, 2021
Jones will hope that result isn’t a bad omen the second time around. Instead, the belief is that Ewels will be the perfect foil in helping Itoje get back to being the menace-in-chief that England have come to know and love ever since he first burst on the scene in 2016.
“The lineout contest in the Six Nations has been of a very high standard and Charlie helps us in that area,” explained Jones ahead of Saturday’s Twickenham showdown with France. “He is a lineout analytic guy and he will help Maro in that area. Maro has been carrying a fairly heavy load there.
“We have always had up until last season either George Kruis or Joe Launchbury looking after that area if Maro had been involved. Unfortunately for the Six Nations, Maro has had to carry the load in an area that has become more contestable.
“So Charlie will help Maro in that area and he is a good young guy who at his best carries hard and tackles hard and around the ruck against France that is going to be super important. We feel like he is approaching his best at the moment.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 11, 2021
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