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Martin Johnson backs ‘oustanding’ Maro Itoje for Lions

  • Italy’s breakdown tactics in 36-15 defeat by England has caused plenty of debate
  • Martin Johnson thinks the Test will make England a better side going forward
  • The World Cup-winner backs Maro Itoje for Lions place
Martin Johnson is convinced Eddie Jones’ frustrations against Italy at Twickenham last weekend will only strengthen England’s chances of lifting the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The tactic limited scrum-half Danny Care’s passing options, and had Jones’ side on the back foot as they trailed 10-5 at half-time.

However, England eventually recorded a 36-15 bonus-point victory, with second-half tries from Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell, who crossed twice, and Ben Te’o.

And Johnson is convinced that having been forced to think on their feet will only benefit Dylan Hartley’s England as they countdown to Japan.

“It was interesting,” said Johnson. “Would you say it was a slightly desperate move? Yes, but the good thing for me: it made England think.


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“I think England did adapt, they just weren’t great at doing it because they hadn’t done it before. If a team doesn’t put pressure on the ball or the breakdown, just go straight through the middle of the thing.

“We actually had rucks at times – well it wasn’t a ruck because there were no Italians there – we had three or four England players around the ball and it was still slow.

“Whatever teams do it closes something down but gives you an opportunity elsewhere, and you’ve got to work that out quickly. We got there; we just didn’t execute it very well.

“That game has gone away because of the pressure around the breakdown and the willingness to move it away from the breakdown. If that changes, you need to go back and attack the breakdown.

“Actually [England] started to do it, and there was times when we did that and a couple of little quick passes were got away and suddenly you’re now going forward.


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“When they did it dynamically, with pace, Italy couldn’t do any of that because they’re chasing you.”

For the second game running, lock Joe Launchbury was selected as the man-of-the-match against Italy after another all-star showing for England in both the loose and also at the set piece.

But it was the performances of Saracen Maro Itoje, playing again as a makeshift blindside flanker and the returning Mako Vunipola off the replacement’s bench that had caught World Cup winner Johnson’s eye.

“Maro Itoje was outstanding, he had a couple of good steals,” said Johnson. “I also thought Vunipola, when he came on, looked strong. Everyone had little bits of brilliance; Ben Youngs also looked good coming on.

“With his physicality, it suited him a bit more to be able to carry the ball. The good thing for England is that you can see a lot more in them in terms of how they can play and the skills some of them have but haven’t used.



“Some of the hands towards the end of the game were good and we can play the game a slightly different way, it doesn’t have to be the same thing all the time.

“I think it will stand England in good stead in for the next game and the future in terms of players being happy with where they are.

“Italy was doing what they always do and forced the guys to play differently and then I saw some people’s fundamental skills breakdown.

“Suddenly England are throwing balls they shouldn’t have thrown, dropping balls they shouldn’t have dropped, the ball hits the post and no one reacts quick enough.


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“They got themselves back together and won the game and scored tries but left some out there, so I think individually most of the players will come off the field thinking I didn’t play well, which is not a bad place to be when you’ve won.

“They play Scotland next and they won’t play like Italy did. They will compete, with the back rowers they have and England will need to react.”

Martin Johnson is an Ambassador for British & Irish Lions Principal Partner Standard Life Investments.