Defence coach John Mitchell has revealed on Monday that Itoje’s recovery from knee ligament damage – which was initially claimed to have ruled him out of the entire championship – had progressed quickly and that he was now “definitely” in contention to face the Welsh in Cardiff on Saturday.
Forwards coach Steve Borthwick dashed that hope 24 hours later, explaining on Tuesday that Itoje is still not ready to return after he hobbled out of England’s opening round win over Ireland on February 2.
While not yet fully fit to play, Itoje’s express recuperation will be no surprise to Alex Goode, who remembers the 24-year-old immediately catching his eye at Saracens as soon as he walked in the door from school in 2012.
“When Maro Itoje came in, I remember his first day of pre-season after he had just come out of school. He had only left about a week before and they are doing testing for the academy guys.
(Continue reading below…)
Watch: England train ahead of Wales game
“He came in and he didn’t even know his own strength, it was freakish. He was doing chin-ups, those things where there is a bar above your head and you try and lift your own weight, lift your head to the same level as your arms.
“He came in first day and started on 20 kilos. It’s one rep max and he did it and he proceeded to go up and up and up and up. He was so unaware. He ended up having 74 kilos around his waist and proceeded to do a chin-up with ease. This a guy a couple of days out of school.
“Most people who are good at chin-ups are light players, strong arms, their stretch is very good, all arms no legs. Like Maro is a big-set guy and his arms are so long, so powerful. Then he can run well, he’s quick. The guy is an athlete. Pure athleticism? He has got to be right up there,” said Goode in an exclusive RugbyPass interview with Jim Hamilton.
“Schalk is very freakish in terms of his power, a really power athlete. He obviously ate a lot of protein as a kid but very very powerful. The things he can do in tight spaces, get hit extremely hard, still offload and hit people very hard.
“He has a level of aggression that makes him very special. Everyone has seen the skills but it is that power and aggression that makes him very good.
“It’s also very hard to look past the Vunipolas, who are brilliant. They look like a bag of sick, both of them, but they’re incredible. Their footwork, their power, their game understanding to go with it is brilliant.
“I have seen Billy get lined up by three lads trying to smash him and he just drives the tackle, takes them on. They all try and choke-tackle him and he just drives on, gets to ground and gets the ball back in one second and you’re ‘how does he do that?’ And Mako’s the same. Brilliant.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.