"Backwards Step for Player Welfare" - Progressive Rugby Professor Calls Out Maro Itoje's Inclusion for England against Japan - Ruck

“Backwards Step for Player Welfare” – Progressive Rugby Professor Calls Out Maro Itoje’s Inclusion for England against Japan

Progressive Rugby, a non-profit rugby union lobby group, have called out the selection of Maro Itoje, for England’s Summer Series fixture against Japan. Steve Borthwick has named Itoje to start against the Brave Blossoms, despite concerns over the Saracen’s game time limit and personal player welfare.

Itoje has played a total of 30 matches in the 2023/24 season, beginning in the 2023 Rugby World Cup warm-up win against Wales. The 29-year-old has played a total of 2301 minutes of rugby since then for club and country, averaging 77 minutes of game-time in all competitions. Itoje played for 80+ minutes in all but one of England’s Rugby World Cup fixtures (excluding Chile), and in all five rounds of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations.

Maro Itoje of Saracens during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Leicester Tigers at StoneX Stadium, London on Sunday 4th November 2023 (PHOTO: George Beck/PPAUK)

For Saracens, Itoje played in 16 matches across the Gallagher Premiership and Investec Champions Cup as Londoners reached the league semi-finals and Round of 16 in Europe. Whilst England’s fixture this Saturday has bragging rights on the line as far as Borthwick and Japan head coach Eddie Jones are concerned, the fixture has no further implications from a tournament perspective.

Professor John Fairclough of Progressive Rugby issued a statement regarding Itoje’s involvement in the match. The leading orthopaedic surgeon believed that the inclusion of the lock is ‘needless’, and does not consider the long-term consequences of any potential brain injuries Itoje could suffer.

Maro Itoje of England during the Summer Nations Series Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 12 Aug 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“The selection of Maro Itoje to play Japan is a needless and very public backwards step for player welfare.” Fairclough said, with his thoughts issued in a Progressive Rugby statement.

“Dismissing game time limits when it suits because a player is ‘desperate to play’ makes a mockery of attempts to protect players from the potentially devastating consequences of degenerative brain disease.

“Players will always want to play, but now, more than ever, strong leaders within this great game need to demonstrate the lessons of the past have been learned and any required mitigations are being rigorously applied to protect the future of the players and the sport.”

Whilst Itoje’s inclusion for the match against Japan is an area of contention for today, there is hope for the future in the form of the Professional Game Partnership. This collaboration between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, will in theory drive change for greater player welfare, as the £264m deal aims to align English rugby and put the players first.