Itoje will learn from Ireland

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 16:51
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SIX NATIONS REACTION: Maro Itoje will be a better player for the bitter experience of a Dublin defeat by Ireland, according to England coach Eddie Jones.

England saw their dreams of a record 19th successive Test win by a leading rugby union nation and back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams end with a 9-13 loss to Ireland at a rain-swept Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Having made his name as a lock, Itoje was deployed as a flank during the Six Nations in the absence of injured Saracens and England second row teammate George Kruis.

Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury took over as England's lock duo, with Itoje moving to the back row after former England captain and starting blindside flank Chris Robshaw was also ruled out through injury.

Nevertheless Jones entrusted Itoje, a 22-year-old politics student at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies as well as a professional rugby player, with the responsibility of 'calling' or organising England's line-out plays - an area where Kruis is an acknowledged expert.

England found life tough at the set-piece in Dublin, no more so than when some six minutes from time Ireland's Peter O'Mahony - who only started after Jamie Heaslip suffered an ankle injury in the warm-up - made a key line-out 'steal' off an English throw as the visitors went in search of a try that would have erased their four-point deficit and put them ahead at 14-13.

"That was pretty big," said Jones following what was a first defeat for both him and the 12-times capped Itoje on England duty.

"We will learn from that - we have got a young guy who is only 22, he is still studying at university. He is doing an essay this week on the socio-economic status of Ghana or something like that. I couldn't understand what he was talking about.

"That [this Six Nations] was the first time he has called line-outs at Test level - he had a hard day today. It is like being a tighthead prop, you learn a lot from failure and he [Itoje] will learn a lot from that today. These things sometimes help you in the long run.

"It's been a great learning experience for him, really beneficial, because George Kruis is an excellent line-out caller. To have him not in the side is difficult for us. So, Maro's now come through and he's the guy that we can call on to call the line-outs."

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, citing England's strength in depth, said Jones's men would remain formidable opponents.

"They'll continue to get better unfortunately for us. They were a whisker away from being better than us tonight and we really rolled our sleeves up," Schmidt said.

England's next Test assignment is a two-match series in Argentina in June.

They are set to be without several regulars because of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand that is taking place at the same time, with Jones forecasting that 15 England players could be in the combined side's squad to face the world champion All Blacks.

"For us, it depends on selection. We could be missing half our squad. It is going to be interesting for us playing Argentina in Argentina at full strength.  One game is in the middle of the Andes mountains - I didn't know they could put a soccer stadium in the middle of the Andes mountains, that is going to be quite a challenge for us," Jones stated.

Agence France-Presse

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