The possibility of Itoje and Chris Robshaw packing down either side of Billy Vunipola for the visit of South Africa next month, thereby retaining the back row that finished the third Test against Australia in June, has been raised by head coach Eddie Jones.
England’s alternatives are the uncapped Sam Jones and Mike Williams, but the former could soon be ruled out of contention after leaving the squad’s training camp in Brighton yesterday with an ankle injury.
Jones has returned to Wasps where the extent of the damage will be assessed, but director of rugby Dai Young is braced for the worst after reflecting on a “nasty injury” that is “not sounding great at the moment”.
Moving Itoje from lock to seven appears the most likely solution to the puzzle of how to replace James Haskell, who will miss all four autumn Tests because of foot surgery, and it is a move that has the backing of George Kruis.
Kruis has played in the second row alongside Itoje throughout the 21-year-old’s brief Saracens and England careers and has seen enough to believe he would make a success of the positional switch.
“Maro has got the work rate and he’s very physical. There’s not much he doesn’t have, to be honest. If he wanted to play fly-half he probably could,” Kruis said.
“He’s a very talented player and if it benefits the team to have him there, then that’s the right position for him
“At Saracens he’s played six a few times. Eddie obviously has a plan of what he wants and if it’s right for the team, that will be the case.”
Jones is seeking a like-for-like replacement for Haskell after abandoning his search for an openside in the traditional mould.
The race to host the 2023 World Cup will be contested by Ireland, France and South Africa.
World Rugby have confirmed that all three nations have demonstrated their ability to meet key criteria such as finance and venues in their applications to stage the tournament.
Italy had also begun the bidding process, pulling out last week when it emerged they would not be given government support.
The third and final phase of the host selection process begins on November 1 with the winner to be chosen a year later.