Maro Itoje lets his rugby do the talking with world-class performance in win over Lyon

As Eddie Jones surveys the damage that six rounds of the Premiership and two in Europe have caused to his squad this week he will at least be able to reassure himself his prized asset has survived relatively unscathed.

A broken nose suffered against Glasgow last week is all Maro Itoje has to show in terms of serious battle damage while the rest of the youngster’s body and all-round game seem in the best working order of his still short professional career.

In an otherwise fairly pedestrian game at Allianz Park on Saturday night, Saracens’ world-class forward produced his latest tour-de-force as Mark McCall’s men delivered a functional if unspectacular bonus-point win over an underwhelming Lyon outfit.

In an error-free performance, Itoje stood head and shoulders above any other forward on the pitch.


England’s autumn international squad





1/36 Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs)

2/36 Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs)

3/36 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)

4/36 Jamie George (Saracens)

5/36 Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)

6/36 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)

7/36 Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors)

8/36 Maro Itjoe (Saracens)

9/36 Charlie Ewels (Bath)

10/36

11/36 George Kruis (Saracens)

12/36 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

13/36 Brad Shields (Wasps)

14/36 Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons)

15/36 Michael Rhodes (Saracens)

16/36 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks)

17/36 Sam Underhill (Bath)

18/36 Zach Mercer (Bath)

19/36 Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

20/36 Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors)

21/36 Danny Care (Harlequins)

22/36 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

23/36 Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)

24/36 Owen Farrell (Saracens)

25/36 George Ford (Leicester Tigers)

26/36 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

27/36 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

28/36 Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)

29/36 Alex Lozowski (Saracens)

30/36 Nathan Earle (Harlequins)

31/36 Elliot Daly (Wasps)

32/36 Jonny May (Leicester Tigers)

33/36 Chris Ashton (Saracens)

34/36 Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)

35/36 Joe Cokanasiga (Bath)

36/36 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

1/36 Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs)

2/36 Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs)

3/36 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)

4/36 Jamie George (Saracens)

5/36 Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)

6/36 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)

7/36 Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors)

8/36 Maro Itjoe (Saracens)

9/36 Charlie Ewels (Bath)

10/36

11/36 George Kruis (Saracens)

12/36 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

13/36 Brad Shields (Wasps)

14/36 Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons)

15/36 Michael Rhodes (Saracens)

16/36 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks)

17/36 Sam Underhill (Bath)

18/36 Zach Mercer (Bath)

19/36 Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

20/36 Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors)

21/36 Danny Care (Harlequins)

22/36 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

23/36 Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)

24/36 Owen Farrell (Saracens)

25/36 George Ford (Leicester Tigers)

26/36 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

27/36 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

28/36 Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)

29/36 Alex Lozowski (Saracens)

30/36 Nathan Earle (Harlequins)

31/36 Elliot Daly (Wasps)

32/36 Jonny May (Leicester Tigers)

33/36 Chris Ashton (Saracens)

34/36 Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)

35/36 Joe Cokanasiga (Bath)

36/36 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

Five carries, 84 metres made, two turnovers won and 10 tackles made hardly touches the surface of a contribution which also saw him reign supreme at the line-out and scrummage impressively in what some consider his second most effective position on the blindside flank.

His first-half try, when Itoje combined superb technique with upper body strength to strip the ball clean out of Lyon lock Etienne Oosthuizen’s hands before galloping 50 metres to score an extraordinary individual try, set the tone for Saracens’ second successive European Champions Cup win.

“It was a unique kind of try,” said Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall. “He is carrying the ball much better than he’s ever carried before. He looked really athletic. Maro works on everything. He is last off the training field and has a hunger and desire to get better.

“He can play international rugby at six or lock and for the Lions at both. It suits us to have him at six at the minute but he can do both.”

Heavily criticised for his mock celebrations against Glasgow last weekend, Itoje let his rugby do the talking on Saturday night in north London to devastating effect.

With Jones’s squad heavily depleted ahead of the first Quilter international against South Africa on November 3, not least in the back row, England’s head coach will surely be tempted to name Itoje at No6 to provide ballast in the absence of his injured Saracens team-mate, Billy Vunipola.

The youngster has added a new carrying dimension to his game and was still rampaging around the field in the dying minutes on Saturday, powering through tackles late in the game and setting Owen Farrell free in the dying minutes for what should have been the bonus point try.

The Saracens fly half lost the ball in contact in a rare misjudgement but Alex Lewington’s superb late touch-down leave McCall’s men in superb shape for the next European rounds in December.

Itoje is also in magnificent fettle while George Kruis looks back to his best in the second row after a difficult season last year and is likely to start alongside Courtney Lawes in the second row against the Springboks at Twickenham.

Itoje’s versatility is a huge asset for Jones and Saracens.

“He has got a very wise head on young shoulders,” said Saracens captain and former England centre Brad Barritt. 

“His demeanour as a person is very much that of a 30-year-old so that is the most impressive thing. He is a very grounded individual, he is motivated and a huge credit to the Saracens team.

“You can have him in any capacity that helps your game plan. On a given day he may play lock but he is hugely versatile.”

Jones may have concerns across the board but mercifully Itoje’s form and fitness are not among them. 

England will build their pack around him this November.

At 23-years-old, the 18-stone forward is already a talisman for club and country.

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