Head coach Eddie Jones believes that Saracens lock Maro Itoje is destined for a long international career despite omitting him from England’s draft squad to face Scotland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.
Jones decided against retaining the uncapped 21-year-old in a group of 23 players earmarked to start in the Calcutta Cup this weekend, although a hamstring injury to Courtney Lawes could yet see Itoje drafted in.
Thursday’s team announcement has been set as the deadline for the Northampton second row to prove his fitness, while Itoje’s man of the match performance against Bath on Saturday did little to harm his chances.
“Courtney is progressing. We’ll give him until Thursday. It looks pretty positive. He probably won’t train until Thursday but we’re hopeful he’ll be all right,” said Jones.
“I went to Saracens, I hid in the stands, and it was the best game I’ve seen Itoje play for them. It was really good, very impressive.
“It’s never too late to get in the 23. The 23 isn’t set in stone, but generally speaking the 23 that we kept are the frontrunners. Now they can play themselves out of selection by injury and by attitude, so there are still opportunities.”
Jones was also quick to confirm that there were deeper reasons for Itoje’s exclusion from the retained list of 23 than a simple omission, with the Australian’s focus more on the long-term and a culture of nurture.
“I want Maro to be a 60-Test player. I don’t want him to be a 10 or 20-Test player. Sixty-Test players start their career well and build on that,” added Jones.
“Some players you can expose too late, some too early. My gut feeling on Maro is that he’s definitely progressing, but he needs just a little more time.
“And if he’s going to play 60 Tests for England we can wait because that would mean he’s a bloody good player and that’s what I think he will be.”