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Why England 'line in the sand' has invigorated 50-cap Maro Itoje

By Liam Heagney

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Maro Itoje will lead England out on Saturday at Twickenham in celebration of the 50th cap for his country invigorated by the possibilities of what can be achieved by a squad overhauled in recent months by Eddie Jones. Itoje’s 48th English cap was an occasion to forget, the team getting hammered by Ireland to leave them finishing in fifth place last March in the Six Nations. 

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Since then, head coach Jones has been on a mission to transform his squad and with the 2023 World Cup finals in France now just 22 months away, Itoje believes he has returned to a very different England than the one that limped beaten out of Dublin. 

Having been away with the Lions while Jones was checking out some new talent with the summer series versus the USA and Canada, Itoje returned to the England side for last Saturday’s comfortable win over Tonga and he will now be the first out to emerge from the tunnel for the clash versus the Wallabies. 

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He will run out with a fresh spring in his step thanks to the Jones overhaul, which also included the appointment of new assistants in the guise of Richard Cockerill and Anthony Seibold. “Things do feel new,” reckoned Itoje. 

“Eddie has talked a lot about drawing a line in the sand after the Lions tour and all heads are looking forward as opposed to looking back. Things do feel invigorated, things do feel fresh and it’s exciting.

“The coaches are fantastic. They have come in, brought their own flavour to things. They have brought an increased level of detail. It feels as if they have propelled the team forward. They are really committed, they really work hard and the mix of personalities and flavours has really put the team in a good place. 

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“In terms of the new players, everyone felt a little bit new coming into this camp because it was essentially a new team, a new mix of people, a new mix of personnel so it feels like a new team. We want to get a few games under our belt and this weekend you don’t really get too many opportunities like this, it’s wonderful.”

It should be for Itoje. Essentially it is his 57th Test appearance as he has played a half-dozen for the Lions, including appearances in all three encounters with the Springboks in the recent series in Cape Town. 

But the 27-year-old who debuted for England in 2016 is chuffed to clock up his 50th cap for his country. “It is one of the great honours in my life to do this. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity, incredibly grateful to be part of this group and I am really happy to be here.”

Much of the focus versus the Wallabies will on Marcus Smith in his first match versus a tier-one nation. Itoje has backed the out-half to go well. “I shared a room last week with Marcus, we have changed now. 

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Marcus is a brilliant individual, he is a very down to earth type of guy. He is extremely talented, there is not really too much a need to say. He is an extremely talented young man, he has a good head on his shoulders and he will be just fine.” 

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