SUDDENLY, even the term BMW does not seem to do Maro Itoje enough justice.
England head coach Eddie Jones said last month he wanted to turn the uncapped Saracens lock from a Vauxhall Viva into one of those revered German automobiles.
Just three games later, however, after the 21-year-old produced a stunning man-of-the-match display against Wales to set up a potential grand slam triumph in Paris on Saturday, Jones conceded that transition is complete.
Such was the calibre of Itoje’s all-consuming performance –line-out steals, crucial turnovers, punishing defensive hits and creating England’s solitary try with one bullocking carry – you sense the coach’s analogy should perhaps have instead involved a Ferrari reference or something similarly refined and elegant.
The Australian is wise enough to know the towering forward –“I’ve not seen a lock as athletically gifted as he is” – needs no extra praise yet. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.
Jones has tried to keep Itoje, who is reading for a Politics degree while destroying Six Nations rivals, away from the media glare but there was no chance on Saturday night.
There were other key plays from a raft of players as they successfully negotiated the frenetic final moments against Wales.
Fit-again Manu Tuilagi raced across to bundle George North into touch just as the British Lions winger seemed set to complete a remarkable comeback, Joe Launchbury then rose to cleanly take the resultant line-out and avoid one last Welsh surge.
Danny Care subsequently had the relieved honour of hoofing the ball into the stands and ending all the uncertainty, England, 25-7 ahead in the 73rd minute, having contrived to almost repeat the disastrous self-implosion suffered the last time these sides had met in that harrowing World Cup game last September.
Before all that, Itoje, born of Nigerian parents in Camden, was the man simply involved in everything.
He admitted, aside from researching for an essay on humanitarian intervention during the game’s build-up, he also had to involve himself in the less cerebral subject of car models.
“I didn’t know what a Viva was – I had to Google it!” said Itoje, when asked if he liked Jones’s comparison.
“I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as that but coach knows best; he’s obviously a very knowledgeable man who knows what he’s talking about.
“I was happy with today. It went pretty well for us. I thought we were pretty tight in the first 60 minutes and the last 20 we were pretty poor but, all in all, we’re happy with the result.”
Itoje struggles to comprehend all the fuss when questioned about his meteoric rise.
“I don’t think it has been that fast, if I’m honest,” he said.
“Other players have done it quicker so I don’t feel my progress has been any more special than anyone else’s.
“There’s no danger of me getting ahead of myself partly because I think there’s a lot more to come. If I was to get ahead of myself over that performance and that’s the best I ever play I’ll be pretty disappointed.
“We haven’t really achieved any of our goals yet. I think when we have started achieving our goals we can start celebrating.”
Of course, the prime goal is to win the grand slam, a first since 2003.
Itoje was aged just eight then when another lock by the name of Martin Johnson ended years of near-misses by leading England to glory in Dublin.
If England play anything like they did in Saturday’s first half, that task will be completed with ease; they were rapid, crisp and slick in almost all they did, the only negative being the interval advantage should have been far greater than 16-0.
They messed up two clean line-breaks meaning Anthony Watson’s ninth try in the Bath winger’s last 11 Test appearances was their only reward, allied to Owen Farrell’s conversion and three penalties.
Farrell stretched the lead early in the second period but when George Ford’s kick was charged down by Dan Biggar, the Wales fly-half regathered to score and give his side a sniff at 19-7.
England stopped attacking and so, despite the faultless Farrell slotting two more penalties, when prop Dan Cole was sin-binned in the 72nd minute, Wales rallied.
They produced a classy try for North and Taulupe Faletau bundled over for Rhys Priestland to convert.
Painful memories of that World Cup disaster must have ventured into English minds but – with the tireless Itoje still grafting at the end – they certainly proved they have mentally toughened up by extinguishing the danger.
England: Brown; Watson, Joseph (Daly 76), Farrell, Nowell; Ford (Tuilagi 63), Youngs (Care 63); Marler (M Vunipola 57), Hartley (Cowan-Dickie 72), Cole, Itoje, Kruis (Launchbury 79), Robshaw (Brookes 72), Haskell (Clifford 69), B Vunipola.
Wales: Williams; Cuthbert, J Davies, North; Biggar (Priestland 74), G Davies (Webb 63); Evans (Owens 54), Baldwin (P James 54), Lee (Francis 54), B Davies, Wyn Jones (Charteris 63), Lydiate, Warburton (Tipuric 57), Faletau.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).