Australia’s back-row uncertainty in the wake of David Pocock’s injury means the stage is well and truly set for emerging English superstar Maro Itoje to make his mark on world rugby.
The 21-year-old was one of England’s best in the 39-28 first Test win over the Wallabies, and the talented Saracens lock now looms as one of the key players of the Cook Cup series after Pocock was ruled out for six weeks with a fractured eye socket.
England were already dominant at the breakdown, Itoje along with James Haskell proving a commanding presence in the face of Australia’s World Cup ‘Pooper’ back-row, which now won’t play together again until the Rugby Championship.
But that seemingly wasn’t enough to satisfy the man tipped as a future England captain, who wants his side to further starve the Wallabies of loose ball in the final two Tests, in Melbourne on Saturday night and then in Sydney the following week.
“All three of their back-rowers are world-class players, and they’re all very dangerous around the breakdown,” Itoje told reporters.
“I think that’s an area we need to improve on. I thought that we allowed them to steal our ball or turnover our ball a bit too much so I’m sure that’s going to be an area for us to work on at training.”
Itoje started in the second row, after speculation he may play at No.6, but proved a menace all over the park and in the lineout.
It was just his fifth match at international level, coming off a domestic season in which he led Saracens to a win in the European Champions Cup final last season and also scooped the European Player of the Year award.
“I’ve obviously never played the second-best team in the world before so it was new, playing Australia,” he said.
“But I just felt we didn’t start how we wanted to start. We were a bit off in our (defence) in the first 15 minutes which gave them opportunities to do what they did.
“If you give them opportunities they’re a deadly side. They will take it, as they did.”
Itoje said the English players weren’t getting carried away with their first win in Brisbane or their stunning rise under coach Eddie Jones.
“We’re not thinking about the future, we’re not thinking about what’s to come in how many years,” he said.
“We want to give a good account of ourselves in Melbourne so that’s the main priority for the team.
“We need to take it up another level because I’m sure Australia are going to do the same.”