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George Kruis backs Saracens team-mate Maro Itoje to fill England openside hole

Published 04/10/2016

Wasps' Sam Jones has an ankle injury
Wasps' Sam Jones has an ankle injury

Maro Itoje's openside credentials have received a strong endorsement on the day England's options in the position appear to have dwindled.

The possibility of Itoje and Chris Robshaw packing down either side of Billy Vunipola for the visit of South Africa next month, thereby retaining the back row that finished the third Test against Australia in June, has been raised by Eddie Jones.

England's alternatives are the uncapped Sam Jones and Mike Williams, but the former could soon be ruled out of contention after leaving the squad's training camp in Brighton on Tuesday with an ankle injury.

Jones has returned to Wasps where the extent of the damage will be assessed, but director of rugby Dai Young is braced for the worst after reflecting on a "nasty injury" that is "not sounding great at the moment".

Moving Itoje from lock to seven appears the most likely solution to the puzzle of how to replace James Haskell, who will miss all four autumn Tests because of foot surgery, and it is a move that has the backing of George Kruis.

Kruis has played in the second row alongside Itoje throughout the 21-year-old's brief Saracens and England careers and has seen enough to believe he would make a success of the positional switch.

"Maro has got the work rate and he's very physical. There's not much he doesn't have to be honest. If he wanted to play fly-half he probably could," Kruis said.

"He's a very talented player and if it benefits the team to have him there, then that's the right position for him

"At Saracens he's played six a few times. Eddie obviously has a plan of what he wants and if it's right for the team, that will be the case."

Jones is seeking a like for like replacement for Haskell after abandoning his search for an openside in the traditional mould.

"At seven we're looking for a destructive defensive player, not your traditional seven player because at the moment we don't have that in England," Jones said on Friday.

"We went down the route of trying to find that but it wasn't successful, so we're looking for a more of a destructive player like a Haskell. So Sam Jones and Mike Williams also come into that category."

Williams' first training session with England's senior squad made an impression on forwards coach Steve Borthwick.

"We did a skills practice first thing in the morning and then a tackle practice. We were just starting slowly and looking at the technical aspects, but Mike was like 'bang!'," Borthwick said.

"He was knocking everything over straight away. He knows one way and that's 100 percent. That's great, that's terrific."

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