Maro Itoje has revealed he is taking inspiration from the British boxing legend Chris Eubank as England seek to keep their hopes of successfully defending the Six Nations title alive against Wales on Saturday.
A keen boxer himself, Itoje highlighted Eubank’s successful title defences and his ability to cope with a constant target on his back as attributes to take from, with England attempting to derail Wales’s bid for the grand slam and the Triple Crown.
While life in the lockdown bubble is proving difficult for some players, Itoje has kept himself busy by watching Piers Morgan’s Life Stories with Eubank, who reigned as world champion for more than five years, and shot to fame for his eccentric demeanour and his legendary bouts with Nigel Benn and Michael Watson.
Asked if there were similarities between Eubank’s ability to rub people up the wrong way and how England are often the team most others want to beat, Itoje said: “Yeah. I think as an England team specifically one could argue that’s pretty similar to how a lot of other nations see us. If you are in that position it’s about relishing it, it’s about enjoying the challenge, enjoying the competition, enjoying the moment, living in the moment, being present in the moment and do what you need to do, and do your best to take care of business.
“He’s just a very fascinating individual. He is as eccentric as they come, he is full of life and is almost his own little comedy show in terms of the things that he says and the way that he dresses, and what he comes out with. But also, he is as tough as nails and as competitive as they come, and he trained and worked incredibly hard to achieve what he has achieved. You don’t achieve that kind of success without putting that work in.”
The boxing theme would appear to chime with Eddie Jones imploring his side to increase their aggression levels but with that inevitably comes the danger of ill-discipline given Wales’ two opponents so far have both had players sent off. Furthermore, the referee, Pascal Gaüzère, has shown more red cards at international level than any other official.
“It’s important,” added Itoje. “It goes without saying that we don’t want to be playing the game with 14 or 13 men. If you do that you just put one arm behind your back while you are going out there and that’s a position we don’t want to be in.
“Rugby isn’t a game where you can win just on pure talent. We have seen many talented sides lose to lesser teams, because of one reason or another. You need to have that mentality, you need to have that fighting spirit, you need to have that dogged approach to what you do. This is the game where we need a result. Our ambition going into the Six Nations was to win it. For us to do that it means we have to win. That’s just a reality of the situation. So full steam ahead. We’re looking to get that result.”
England confirmed that Courtney Lawes, who was a late withdrawal from the side on Thursday morning, has been ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations with a chest injury. It is a bitter blow for Lawes, who missed the autumn campaign with an ankle injury, with Mark Wilson coming into the side in his place. “It’s very disappointing but these things happen,” said England’s attack coach Simon Amor. “We’ll look at a replacement after this Wales game. Courtney is an experienced player. He brings a lineout threat and a great defensive energy. But we’ve got some really fantastic players, particularly Mark Wilson who is one of our workrate players.”
Meanwhile, the Six Nations are set to announce a date for France v Scotland next week but it is understood the match will not take place on the weekend of March 6-7. France have announced another round of negative tests with players subsequently sent home but using the second fallow week is not considered viable. France’s team manager Raphael Ibanez is in favour of using the weekend after the Six Nations is due to finish at the end of March but that does not solve the issue of player release for Scotland and only exacerbates it for les bleus. As a result, a proposal to play the match midweek in the week commencing 8 March is thought to be gaining traction given all players would, in theory, be available but that would be met with fierce opposition on welfare grounds.