Rugby: Itoje backed by Saracens boss McCall
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Maro Itoje has received staunch backing from Saracens in response to Sir Clive Woodward’s claim the England lock is “out on his feet”.
Woodward made the remark after Eddie Jones’ men had been condemned to a fifth-place finish in the NatWest 6 Nations by their 24-15 defeat to Ireland, sealing their worst Championship performance since 1987.
The demands of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last summer was used by Woodward to explain Itoje’s dip in form, while Jones had identified “second season syndrome” as the source of the slump.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, however, points to the 23-year-old’s limited workload this season – including five weeks out with a fractured jaw – to argue against England’s World Cup-winning coach.
“There are things that have been written about certain players that aren’t all that accurate and aren’t really based on any data,” said McCall, ahead of his side’s London Stadium clash with Harlequins.
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“Maro seems to be the one who has been highlighted as ‘out on his feet’ – that’s the quote I’ve seen.
“But Maro’s playing record over the last 20 weeks is 10 games played, so that’s 10 weekends when he hasn’t played.
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“There are games for us this year where he has been exceptional. Personally I thought he was fantastic against France, playing his best game of the Six Nations against them, and did well against Ireland.
“Maro’s match minutes this season (875 minutes for Saracens) are really low, lower than Owen Farrell.
“Our Lion who has the most is Owen Farrell (1,084 minutes for Saracens) and he’s on track to complete around the same game minutes that we would normally have for a player like him.
“Owen is playing pretty well. In fact, I think he’s been exceptional over the past two weeks.
“He doesn’t look tired, and he’s played way more than Maro Itoje has. Some of the arguments don’t stack up, I don’t think.”
Jones revealed at Twickenham on Saturday that he may rest some players who were involved in the Lions tour for the three-Test series against South Africa that looms in June and McCall has already discussed the subject with the Australian.
“Eddie has given me a few thoughts on a few players for the summer tour, but those conversations should stay private. He’ll announce in due course who may or may not go,” McCall said.
McCall has dismissed calls for England’s players to be centrally contracted and not controlled by the clubs, as happens in Ireland, in response to seeing Joe Schmidt’s men run away with the title.
“Nobody was asking these questions in the last two years when England won the Grand Slam and won the Six Nations. It’s a little bit panicky,” McCall said.
Billy Vunipola could miss Saracens’ Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster after McCall revealed his return date from the fractured arm sustained in January remains in doubt.
“It’s a little bit uncertain, Billy is in a race against time to be ready for the quarter-final,” McCall said.