Maro Itoje insists England will be led into today’s game with Japan at Twickenham by a rugby brain worthy of a double PhD in the sport.
George Ford has been named captain for England’s penultimate autumn Test, a game that provides his first start after playing second fiddle to Owen Farrell at fly-half against South Africa and New Zealand.
It marks the 25-year-old’s 50th cap and serves as an opportunity to prove he can lead the side at next year’s World Cup should regular skippers Farrell and Dylan Hartley be struck down by injury.
“George is a great orator and his knowledge of the game is superb,” said British and Irish Lions lock Itoje.
“He and Owen Farrell… I don’t think I know anybody who knows more about rugby than those two. If there was a PhD in rugby those guys would be double doctorates and I would be a student in their classes.
“George’s knowledge of the game is second to none and in my opinion he has led the guys brilliantly this week.
“It’s a big week for him with it being his 50th cap and he deserves the accolades. To win 50 caps at the age of 25 is impressive.
“He is not as vocal as others but if you are out there on the pitch you definitely hear him.”
Japan are positioned 11th in the global rankings and are as long as 50-1 to win at Twickenham in only the second Test match between the nations.
The stunning upset of South Africa in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup – masterminded by Eddie Jones – and last autumn’s draw with France underline the danger they pose as underdogs.
If you look at their game and their history of results and what they did at the World Cup, they’re a mentally strong team.Maro Itoje
Itoje, who will act as vice-captain today, welcomes fixtures against less established opposition.
“It’s a good thing for the global game. It’s good that tier one nations play traditional tier two nations,” said Itoje.
“I don’t know the economics of it, but we are in a fairly advantageous position compared to them.
“These kinds of games help the sport grow.
“It’s a chance to test yourself against a different opposition. Every country has a slightly different way of approaching the game and how they see the game.”
Itoje is confident England will have no difficulty matching the ferocity they displayed in last Saturday’s controversial 16-15 defeat by New Zealand.
“Japan are ranked a lot lower than us but they are actually a good team. This week I’ve watched quite a bit of them. They have some big boys,” said Itoje.
“They’re well drilled and well coached. Eddie has given us an insight into them and we know it definitely won’t be easy.
“If you look at their game and their history of results and what they did at the World Cup, they’re a mentally strong team.”
England assistant coach Neal Hatley believes Japan enter the game intent on demonstrating they are a growing force.
“They’ll be ready to play unbelievably hard to prove a point to World Rugby – and that is that they’re ready to compete in tier one,” said Hatley.
“They’ve put in some really good performances and this is the next step in their journey, so we’re expecting a tough game.
“We’re expecting lots of endeavour and effort from them. Eddie believes that since the World Cup they have got better.”
Jones has used the match as a dress rehearsal for Japan 2019 when a four-day turnaround between the group games against Tonga and the United States must be accommodated, before the heavyweight collisions with Argentina and France begin.
Kick-off: Twickenham, 3pm.
England: E Daly; J Cokanasiga, J Nowell, A Lozowski, C Ashton; G Ford (capt); D Care; A Hepburn, J George, H Williams, C Ewels, M Itoje, C Lawes, M Wilson, Z Mercer. Replacements: D Hartley, B Moon, K Sinckler, T Hill, S Underhill, R Wigglesworth, O Farrell, H Slade.
Japan: W Tupou; A Yamada, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, K Fukuoka; Y Tamura, F Tanaka; K Inagaki, A Sakate, J Koo, W van der Walt, U Helu, M Leitch (capt), M Nishikawa, K Himeno. Replacements: Y Niwai, K Yamamoto, A A Valu, S Anise, H Tui, S Nunomaki, Y Nagare, R Matsuda.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand).
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens and Dan Jones.