England endorse their enforcers
England are not concerned that Maro Itoje may be developing a reputation for ill-discipline and will continue to ask their lock to lead the charge against New Zealand.
Itoje has conceded 37 penalties since the start of Eddie Jones’ tenure as England head coach, second only to Dan Cole on 38. Since the beginning of 2018, he has conceded 17 penalties. Mako Vunipola is next on the list, with seven fewer.
Australian referee Angus Gardner sent Itoje to the sin bin in the 16th minute of England’s 12-11 win over South Africa last weekend for killing the ball at a breakdown just metres from England’s try-line. It was his first yellow card in test rugby and his second offence of the match, the Saracen having taken out an airborne Eben Etzebeth at an early lineout.
Although the hosts emerged unscathed from their 10 minutes down to 14 men, even pulling back three points, they were indebted to some remarkable wastefulness from the Springboks.
While acknowledging a need for his team to curb their penalty count – they ended up conceding 11 to South Africa’s five – Neal Hatley praised Itoje’s “huge” contribution to the scrum and lineout and insisted that the 24-year-old would continue to act as England’s chief aggressor when New Zealand arrive at Twickenham. “The type of player that he is, he’s going to be attritional,” he said. “You saw in Australia in 2016, he was leading the charge. We asked him to lead that charge. If you ask people to play that way, there are sometimes going to be penalties around that. “Could we improve our discipline? One hundred per cent. We have to, because you cannot afford to be giving international sides set-piece opportunities inside the 22. That’s not just Maro, that’s as a forward pack. ‘‘We gave [away] a soft offside penalty in the middle of the pitch, 40 metres out which gave [South Africa] their first points.
“As a pack, that’s something we have to do.’’
Hatley also put forward tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler as another tonesetting enforcer, but suggested that Itoje, likely to remain alongside George Kruis in the second row rather than shifting to blindside flanker, was getting “better and better” and endorsed his “confrontational” style. “We see Maro being able to do that because of his stature and because that’s the way he likes to play the game,” Hatley added.
“He is confrontational. ‘‘He likes to get on the front foot and if it’s a strength, we will encourage him to keep pushing at it.”