Those who witnessed Saturdays clash at Twickenham may believe Eddie Jones self imposed media ban is a good idea. Of all the tongue in cheek comments made by the Australian, comparing Maro Itoje to a Vauxhall Viva may prove to become the most outlandish of all.
The 21 year olds debut starting performance was simply outstanding. Much has been made in the media over the last 12 months of his potential, lets take a closer look at his performance and see if there is evidence to back up what our eyes told us.
To give context to Itoje’s performance we compare him to the English back row.
As you can see defensively he was dominant, his tackle success of 87% was slightly lower than his incredible 98% at domestic level. Impressively for 45% of those tackles he made a second effort to get to his feet and make a nuisance of himself, disrupting the speed of ball and tying in potential Irish attackers.
England collectively were making inroads in attack, their endeavour to dominate the collision with ball in hand tired the Irish side and ultimately won them the game. Without Sean O’Brien Ireland struggled to slow the ball, but the work rate and accuracy of the pack in general gave England continuity. Vunipola was again excellent in attack, but others helped with the hard graft of carrying into traffic, leaving defenders exposed to tackling Vunipola 1 on 1.
Before the Wales game there will inevitably be questions on the ability of the England back row to get over the ball. Marler, Itoje and Clifford managed to make positive contributions and cover up what is certainly an area of weakness. It should be noted that two of the turnovers for Itoje below were line out steals.
Unfortunately for Itoje, in modern day rugby there are always other players who standardise your performance, a few posts ago we looked at the performance of Scotland’s Jonny Gray. In Rome, Gray did not miss a single tackle and is certainly setting a standard for all young second rows at international level. This should aid Jones mission to keep Itoje’s feet on the ground, although it has to be said there has been no evidence that they aren’t firmly planted already.