The majority of Maro Itoje’s international experience has come at lock but as he prepares to start in the back row for England for the first time, World Cup-winning flanker Lewis Moody says he is there to stay.
Coming through the ranks at Saracens, Itoje was capable in either the second or back row, and actually made his England debut – against Italy in last year’s Six Nations – as a flanker coming off the bench.
Yet all six of his international starts since have been at lock, despite his skill set being much more comparable to a No.6 or No.7.
Chris Robshaw’s shoulder injury has convinced Eddie Jones to start the 22-year-old at blindside against France this weekend however – a move 2003 World Cup winner Moody believes is well overdue.
“I have always seen Maro as a No.6 and I’ve never understood the fascination with playing him at lock,” said Moody, who is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover has a heritage in supporting rugby at all levels, from grassroots to the elite. Through its ‘We Deal in Real’ campaign, Land Rover continues to shine a light on the people, players and clubs at the heart and soul of the game.
“He’s a very good rugby player and you want to make the most of his skill set – he’s an aggressive ball carrier, strong tackler and hard at the breakdown.
“He’s powerful as well, he’s got everything you want in a back-rower.
“I suppose the one thing about playing him in the second row is that it allows you to have more back-rowers on the pitch, which is fantastic.
“But I do think if he’s going to evolve into a world-class player then his best position is a six.
“When Robshaw and [James] Haskell are fully fit, that back row suddenly becomes very exciting with plenty of youngsters knocking on that door soon enough as well.”
The other surprise to emerge from Jones’ selection for the visit of France on Saturday was Elliot Daly being given the nod on the wing ahead of Jack Nowell, who is named as a replacement.
The Wasps man is more renowned as a centre, although he did play out wide for England during the autumn when Nowell, Jonny May and Anthony Watson were all out injured.
Against Argentina in November, the 24-year-old was sent off just four minutes into proceedings – becoming just the second England player to see red at Twickenham, with Moody coincidentally being the other.
And while the 38-year-old disagrees with Jones’ wing call, he understands giving Daly a shot at redemption.
“I’m surprised Daly’s starting – I know Eddie Jones favoured Elliot on the wing in the autumn until his red card and maybe he wants to give Elliot the opportunity to redeem himself,” mused Moody.
“It’s such a difficult thing to deal with mentally after being sent off and all that comes with that.
“It’s a shame because Jack Nowell is a player I love watching. He doesn’t wait for action, he seeks it out and he’s a tenacious little fella.
“They have contrasting styles but I’d be surprised if we don’t see Jack Nowell getting a run-out fairly early.
“I definitely think Elliot is a centre, an outside centre really. I think he offers more to the game there but when you’ve got so many talented players it’s difficult.
“Sometimes it’s about getting your best 15 players on the pitch regardless of position.”
Lewis Moody is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover continues to champion grassroots rugby through its We Deal In Real campaign. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal