Maro Itoje’s form dived

Maro Itoje looks on ahead of the Six Nations rugby match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium – Getty Images/Julian Finney

“Itoje has been quieter than usual – but stays on track”

By Charlie Morgan

We saw by the omissions of Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi – without forgetting Jonny Hill, Jonny May and Jack Nowell – that Steve Borthwick will not be afraid to put his paw on this England team with big calls. I think Maro Itoje should be part of the way forward.

Undoubtedly, he has endured calmer games over the past year, including the Premiership final. Saturday’s defeat against Scotland is probably also one of them. Itoje’s main strength is defensive disruption and he tends to be more important in games where opponents dominate possession. Just a year ago against Ireland, he put in one of the best individual performances by an England player in recent memory.

On weekends, Ollie Chessum’s production was bigger. The Leicester Tigers man amassed 49 yards, with Itoje managing just five. The latter tends to draw criticism for shots on goal and has conceded one in each half – the former for off-balance during a jackal attempt and the latter for not falling back to an onside position while which Scotland attacked at the dawn of England’s 22. It’s worth pointing out that Chessum also recorded two equally avoidable penalties. Otherwise, Itoje amassed 12 tackles without missing a tackle.

Only Ben Curry, who made 13 and missed four, did more for England. As England’s roster caller, three wasted throws and a helpless maul at the end will have frustrated Itoje. That said, the variation in Ellis Genge’s essay preparation was impressive. Going deeper, Itoje hit 44 rucks, according to Opta. Jamie George was next on that list, racking up 43, with Chessum next on 31. Itoje emptied the tank.

England might need a heavier pack in games against different teams, which could lead to an overhaul if Chessum’s influence continues to grow. Chessum settled behind his tight props in the scrums on Saturday, suggesting he is the stronger of the two in this area. David Ribbans is a talented player and Courtney Lawes will return at some point, but England are undeniably short of a lumpy lock like France’s Paul Willemse.

Joe Launchbury could come back into the equation, which could mean a choice between moving Chessum blind or dropping Itoje. The latter would require someone else to call the line out, of course. Borthwick will not neglect this vital aspect of the game.

“There is no scenario in which Itoje will be abandoned”

By Charles Richardson

Maro Itoje is a victim of his own success. He burst onto the scene and immediately delivered performances at an incredibly high level, largely maintaining them ever since. We subsequently rate Itoje extremely high – and rightly so – but that means when he dips slightly below world class, as he did against Scotland, it gets noticed and commented on.

For the British and Irish Lions, England and Saracens, Itoje has been a standout player and his impressive club form this season should not be overlooked. Quiet play is no substitute for that.

Maro Itoje takes on Scotsman Pierre Schoeman - Getty Images/Alex Davidson

Maro Itoje takes on Scotsman Pierre Schoeman – Getty Images/Alex Davidson

Managing the line out is a crucial role and it is difficult to assess from the outside how successful this has been. True, England lost three this weekend on their own throw, but only those in the English camp will know whose responsibility for those specific incidents lies. The fundamental importance of the line-out caller is beyond doubt, however, and changing this will cause further disruption in a new setup.

I don’t see any scenario where Steve Borthwick would drop Itoje, which is a position I agree with.

“The overreaction to Itoje’s recent performances has been hysterical”

By Ben Coles

England shouldn’t leave out Maro Itoje and I don’t think they will. Some of the overreaction to his recent performances has bordered on hysteria, especially as we are only one game away from the Championship.

With England suffering a first-round defeat and Italy showing a huge amount of promise and potential against France, Steve Borthwick can’t afford to leave Itoje out.

England have only a few players who could be considered world-class and Itoje is one of them, with injured Tom Curry the other main candidate for this bracket. Itoje’s six or seven out of 10 performance is more impactful than the nine out of 10 showing of most other locks.

I think most international coaches would laugh at anyone outside the room suggesting Itoje should be dropped.

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