Maro Itoje says he loves playing Ireland and sees Saturday’s crunch Guinness Six Nations match as a good opportunity for a young England side to prove themselves.
The Saracens second row was full of praise for Andy Farrell’s side and the development they have seen in recent times, but believes England have developed too.
Both England and Ireland head into Saturday’s game at Twickenham with one defeat already in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations and know they must win if they are to challenge unbeaten France for the Championship in the final round.
“It’s a massive game, it’s a hugely important game, and it’s a huge opportunity for us to hopefully show some growth within this team,” said Itoje.
“I always love playing Ireland, love playing their talented team, probably one of the teams in the northern hemisphere that’s had some of the best performances over the past five years or so against big opposition, I enjoy playing them, I enjoy the challenge and everything that comes with it.
“I think they’ve grown as a team. They’re playing with a lot of conviction. They’re a well-organised team and I think they’re just another team in the northern hemisphere that has shown a lot of growth within the last 12 months like a few teams have shown so I think they have progressed well.
“They’re obviously a talented team, a well-coached team, a team that know their detail and how they want to play the game so of course there’s elements of the game previously which we can look at and refer to but they’ve also grown, they’ve also got better in this period so we’re not playing the same Ireland team we played a year ago.”
Ireland come into the game off the back of a comfortable 56-7 win over Italy in Round 3 after a narrow 30-24 defeat to unbeaten France in Round 2 and Itoje knows how big a test it will be.
He said: “Every Ireland team is strong. I think year on year they’ve been improving and getting better, and they are progressing really well.
“They move the ball pretty quickly from the base and they’re a team that plays with a lot of momentum. It’s around the tackle area, your work as a team that you do in the tackle area and on the floor will ultimately determine the speed of ball you get at the breakdown so that’s the challenge for us.”
Despite the stern test posed by Ireland, Itoje is confident England can put in a strong performance.
“We just want to win the game. I think that probably goes without saying. We want to be forthright with our actions, be decisive and play with a lot of conviction. I fully back the team to do such,” he added.
“I assume this team doesn’t have as many caps as previous teams but that being said we’ve done a lot of work throughout the weeks, throughout the Six Nations to work on how tight we are as a group, how tight we are as a pack.
“Despite the amount of total caps we have as a team, I think we have made up that gap with how close we are off the pitch and how much we’ve enjoyed each other’s company.
“I think we’re in a great position, we’re in a good spot and our future will be brighter than our past.”