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Maro Itoje names the law change that robbed him of 'secret weapon'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England forward Maro Itoje has bemoaned the law change that has robbed him of what he called his secret weapon. He also revealed the players he looked up to most as a youngster, and named who he thinks will be the breakout English star of the 2023 World Cup, the tournament that will bring to an end the long tenure of Eddie Jones in charge.

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A joint Q&A featuring Itoje and All Blacks back-rower Ardie Savea was the cover feature story in the latest edition of Rugby World magazine and the England second row/blindside revealed that he misses a breakdown tactic that was outlawed five years ago by a law change.

It was 2017 when law 16:4 regarding other ruck offences was changed to stop players from kicking the ball out of a ruck. The law amendment at the time read: “A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. Sanction: Penalty kick. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion.”

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Kicking the ball at the ruck had been a feature during the breakthrough years for Itoje at international level and asked what changes have been bad since he started playing, he replied: “You’re no longer allowed to kick the ball in rucks, which used to be my secret weapon.”

That said, Itoje added that most of the changes that have happened on his watch have been positive. “There have been a lot of changes and for the most part, they have been good. By far it’s quicker and a lot more physical, even the rule changes from my Test debut to now… You almost look back to older games I played – and I still started playing relatively recently in the grand scheme of things – and you can see the way the game has moved forward and evolved.”

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Now 28 years old with 59 England Test caps to his name following his blindside start last Sunday versus Argentina, Itoje also listed the players he looked up to as a kid starting out in the game. “I was always a big Tom Croft fan,” he reported. “He was an awesome player, a player I looked up to – the 2009 Lions. I was also a Thierry Dusautior fan; I’d seen him be brilliant for France. He was a great back row, one of the best to do it.

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“When I first started googling and looking at YouTube, it was Jonah Lomu. Then every England player in my generation looked up to Jonny Wilkinson. He was the superstar of the time, he still is now. All those players had a positive impact on me.”

Switching to next year’s World Cup in France, Itoje named the England youngster he believes is a world star in the making. “Henry Arundell is a guy who has been the breakout of the last twelve months. He made his debut on the summer tour and is a good old Harrow boy.

“I’m sure he will continue to grow as a player and we will probably see a lot more of him. At the World Cup, I’m sure there will be a couple of bolters too.”

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