Time for England to become more ruthless, says Maro Itoje

THE work simply never ceases for England’s Maro Itoje – on and off the field.

No stopping him: England's Jonny May. Pictures: PA

Following one of the most involved Test appearances you are ever likely to see, the totemic Saracens lock rounded off his towering display – consisting mainly of persistently ruining Irish ball and battering Irish attackers – by taking on something a little more cerebral.

After England suffocated their rivals with an outstanding defensive display on Saturday, head coach Eddie Jones allowed them to briefly leave their ‘bubble’ for some ‘family time’ before being due back into camp this morning.

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Asked what that would entail for him, Itoje said: “There won’t be any celebrating because we’re in lockdown.

“I’ll probably have a little bit of time with the team after this, have some dinner, but then go home.

“I’m back studying now and I have an assignment due imminently so I have to put my head down and get back to work.

“It won’t be too glamorous for me.”

Which could also be an analysis of his game; the British Lion, who already has a politics degree, continues to excel at doing all the gritty but crucial aspects of his role to help underpin what was a far more convincing victory than the scoreline suggested.

In the thick of it: England's Maro Itoje makes a tackle.

After being 12-0 up at half-time following a brace of Jonny May tries, including a brilliant 80m solo effort from the impish winger, England would had hoped to push on to greater things.

They had been so dominant in the lineout, Itoje helping making life miserable for opposite number James Ryan – captain in Jonathan Sexton’s absence – and Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher being especially erratic.

Owen Farrell slotted two penalties to extend the lead but then England spent most of the final quarter absorbing Irish pressure, admittedly in an impressive manner.

Jacob Stockdale finally breached them in the 74th minute, the first opponent to score against them in 215 minutes, going back to the first half of the Six Nations game against Italy in October.

Demanding England want to get better and Itoje, who could be heard from the stands hollering at every turnover or punishing defensive hit, conceded: “That’s the next step for us really (putting sides to the sword).

“It’s important to remember we’re not playing against any mugs here. Ireland are a serious team and well-coached with some really good players.

“They were always going to have a moment where they’d make it difficult and would never roll over.

“But we want to be more relentless. We want to be more clinical. We want to take larger control of the game. That’s our next step.”

Wales, then, need to beware. The sides meet at Llanelli on Saturday in their last round of Autumn Nations Cup games with England only needing to avoid defeat to reach the final.

With Wales in such a state of transition and having only managed to splutter to an 18-0 woin over Georgia, it will take something special to knock England out of their rhythm.

Jones revealed that he has been working with an analyst from Liverpool Football Club to help him measure the movements of his players off the ball as well as on it.

Increasingly, there is no hiding place for any of them and the rewards are already there to be seen; Jones was impressed by the transitional play that allowed May to turn defence into attack for that stunning score after Itoje had spoiled another Irish lineout in his side’s own 22.

Jones said: “We flick the switch and we’ve created games that mimic those sort of situations.

“We had a great meeting with the Liverpool analyst and we’re starting to get our own data now which is really useful.

“Most of the football sides are very advanced in being able to measure the movements of the players off the ball. A lot of stats are only concerned with information on the ball. Mako Vunipola might have made 20 tackles and carried the ball three times so for 79 minutes and 45 seconds he’s not with the ball. But his movement off the ball is crucial to what we do when we transition.

“We have three great analysts who look at the players’ efforts in their race to get into position which is really important and it was great to see Jonny score that try as he did.”

England: Daly; Joseph (Malins 72), Lawrence (Ford 69), Slade, May; Farrell, Youngs (Robson 63); M Vunipola (Genge 63), George (Dunn 80), Sinckler (Stuart 69), Itoje, Launchbury (Stuart 69), Curry, Underhill (Earl 63), B Vunipola.

Ireland: Keenan (Stockdale 58); Earls, Farrell, Aki, Lowe; Byrne (Burns 72), Gibson Park (Murray 51); Healy (Bealham 66), Kelleher (Herring 51) Porter, Roux (Henderson 51), James Ryan, Stander (Connors 66), O’Mahony, Doris.

Referee: P Gauzere (France).

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