Eddie Jones is determined to shield rising England star Maro Itoje from the spotlight after seeing Courtney Lawes struggle to maintain the standards he set earlier in his career.
Itoje, 21, will make his full debut in Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with Ireland at Twickenham, confining the far more experienced Lawes to a covering role on the bench.
To date in the 2016 championship, Itoje has been the subject of a media blackout enforced by Jones and the England head coach will only allow him any publicity once he has begun delivering on the pitch.
“I want Itoje to be a great rugby player and I don’t want him to be built up to be a headline before he’s a headline. I’m taking a duty of care with him,” Jones said.
“I want this kid to play 70-80 Tests. He’s good enough for that, but I want him to earn his stripes.
“When he’s played a massive game for England, has won line-outs and won a significant Test match, then he can talk to the media. He doesn’t deserve media exposure. He has done nothing, nothing.
“When Courtney came in, everyone said he would be the next Martin Johnson. He was built up and built up, headlines everywhere. That is what I’m trying to protect Itoje from.”
Itoje produced a forceful 28-minute cameo from the bench when Italy were routed 40-9, but Jones believes the Saracens locks needs to develop a harder edge.
“Maro is an athletic boy. The best left-hand side lock in the world is (South Africa’s) Eben Etzebeth. He can be a more athletic version of Etzebeth,” Jones said.
“He has got better jumping skills than Etzebeth, but he has got that mongrel in his carry and his tackle.
“If Itoje can develop that, he will be world-class as a left-sided lock. And he could play at blindside flanker at a pinch.
Jones insists England’s players need to be taken out of their comfort zone.
“I think they are too comfortable at the moment. My job is to make them not comfortable,” Jones said.
“And that is the only way we are going to change what has happened in English rugby over the last period of time.
“I can’t just bang heads all the time or I will lose them. So it’s a matter of finding a way with each of them.”