Maro Itoje is already a giant of England Rugby and the towering second row enjoyed another Championship to remember in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
It’s so easy to forget that Itoje has only just celebrated his 26th birthday. With 39 Red Rose caps and a British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand already under his belt, the Saracens lock’s career continues to snowball into success after success.
And that trend continued in style in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, as Eddie Jones’ England roared to a third title in five years with Itoje at the heart of the pack.
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Itoje’s indefatigable presence helped England battle past Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy, fighting back from that Round 1 defeat against France to snatch the title from their rivals on a thrilling Super Saturday.
England had to do things the hard way after a 24-17 defeat at the Stade de France but with the power of Itoje a permanent presence, Jones’ team rose to the summit once more.
Itoje started all five of England’s matches as the Red Rose combined both style and substance in the elongated Championship, edging out a mud-splattered victory at a wet and wild BT Murrayfield before running in 11 tries in three matches against Ireland, Wales and Italy.
The imposing lock may have not been on the scoresheet – he has only scored two Test match tries – but as ever, Itoje’s influence lay not so much in try-scoring aesthetics as it did in vital work at the breakdown and crucial tackles made.
Itoje completed no fewer than 80 successful tackles throughout the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, behind only Bernard Le Roux and Gregory Alldritt in the total standings and three ahead of France captain Charles Ollivon.
And that statistic only tells the start of the story of Itoje’s searing Championship, having also won the third most turnovers in the competition behind Ireland’s CJ Stander and Italy’s Jake Polledri.
Itoje won a total of five turnovers for his side, intervening at critical moments in Edinburgh, London and Rome to represent a talismanic presence in Jones’ second row.
His performance from set pieces wasn’t bad, either, claiming 17 successful line-outs across the Championship and again placing third in the overall standings behind Ollivon and Italy’s Braam Steyn.
The fact Itoje was one of only 13 players across the whole Championship to play every minute for his team is further testament to his significance, forming rock-solid partnerships with Charlie Ewels, George Kruis and then Jonny Hill to help England claim their seventh title of the Six Nations era.
In Itoje’s 400 minutes he gained a valuable 81 metres in 22 carries, popping up in all areas of the pitch – in both open play and at the breakdown – as England successfully navigated their way past their final four opponents.
The heartbeat of England’s pack and a formidable presence throughout, Itoje left an unequivocally indelible mark on this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
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