England call on Maro Itoje to get physical with All Blacks
Jones to name a team designed to rattle New Zealand as Underhill also poised for recall
Maro Itoje in action during England’s victory over South Africa at Twickenham stadium last Saturday. Photograph: EPA
England have told Maro Itoje to get in the faces of the All Blacks on Saturday despite mounting concerns over his discipline. With the tough-tackling Sam Underhill also poised for a recall, Eddie Jones is on Thursday set to name an England side designed to rattle the world champions at Twickenham.
Itoje conceded three penalties inside the opening 15 minutes against South Africa last Saturday – the third earning him a yellow card – and was England’s worst offender during the summer series against the Springboks. He has also attracted critics of late after pretending to join in Glasgow’s celebrations for a try he knew had been disallowed during Saracens’ recent Champions Cup victory but England want him to lead the charge against the All Blacks.
“We see Maro being able to do that because of his stature and because that’s the way he likes to play the game,” said England scrum coach Neal Hatley. “He likes to be confrontational. He likes to get on the front foot and if it’s a strength, we will encourage him to keep pushing at it.”
During the 2017 British & Irish Lions series in New Zealand, Itoje’s confrontational style was a hit with travelling supporters and after the tourists’ victory in Wellington in the second Test, 30,000 fans were singing his name. Last season his international form dropped off during the run of five straight defeats but Dylan Hartley expects Itoje to be England’s talisman when he renews hostilities with New Zealand.
“Through his actions, he inspires people,” said England’s co-captain. “Through his energy, he motivates people. He is the sort of player that doesn’t just dip his toe into the water. He bombs straight in and that is good to follow.”
Meanwhile, Underhill is in line for a first cap since the Six Nations defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield in February with England considering him a like-for-like replacement for the openside flanker Tom Curry, who has been ruled out for the rest of the autumn series with an ankle injury.
On his most recent outing at Twickenham Underhill made a miraculous tackle on Scott Williams as England held on to defeat Wales in the Six Nations but a toe injury denied him a place on the summer tour of South Africa and he was overlooked last week.
He has only three Test starts to his name, meaning Jones’s reshaped backrow is again set to have a callow look to it but Hartley added: “He plays in a position that’s hotly contested. We’ve got plenty of guys who can play there, so for him to stick with it and contribute when he hasn’t been playing, especially last week . . . It’s just great for him, he gets another shot. He’s done his job incredibly well, and guess what happens, he gets an opportunity this week. I’m happy for him.”
And like Itoje, Underhill plans to bring an abrasive edge at Twickenham. “I would like to think I could offer something in defence,” he said. “That’s an area of the game I enjoy a lot and an area where I try influence the way we do things there.”
Jones was on Wednesday night also weighing up whether to pit Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi together against the All Blacks. Both last started for England on the 2014 tour of New Zealand but Ashton impressed off the bench against the Springboks while Tuilagi has recovered from the groin injury that denied him a place as a replacement last Saturday. The props Ben Moon and Harry Williams are also pushing for starts after shining as replacements last week.
New Zealand have been dealt a blow with the loosehead prop Joe Moody ruled out after splitting his eyelid during training. He suffered the gruesome injury during lineout practice and will be sidelined for six weeks meaning he will also miss the All Blacks’ trip to Dublin.