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Versatile Itoje is England's ace in the pack

By Jack De Menezes

The term most valuable player is rarely used in sport this side of the Atlantic, and is reserved for such icons of sport as Tom Brady, but England's rugby team appears to have found its own MVP in Maro Itoje.

The 22-year-old Saracens lock is not yet in double figures in terms of international caps, but he is quickly proving his importance to Eddie Jones' plans that will culminate at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He has already proven an welcome asset to the team on the whole, with Itoje yet to lose in an England shirt, having begun his international career during the 16-match winning streak the side are currently on.

But he's also proven his incredible versatility in many ways. The first came in switching from lock to blindside flanker on the international stage, while covering the second row should either Joe Launchbury or Courtney Lawes need replacing.

The second has been the understanding that he can strike up with multiple partners in the pack. Itoje flourished early on alongside Saracens clubmate George Kruis, but on Saturday against Wales he proved he can also adapt alongside openside Jack Clifford and No 8 Nathan Hughes, despite the trio never playing together in the back row.

The third, though, was the most remarkable. Despite playing in the No 6 shirt, Itoje packed down in the second row with Lawes shifting over to the blindside, and Jones lauded the pair as his new five-and-a-halves in a nod to his heralding of Chris Robshaw's new role last year.

Itoje's strong aspects are prevalent both in the lineout - where his height and reach certainly gives him an advantage - and in defence where he is rarely shaken off by the opposition.

However, it's this new role that is revealing his worth as a scrummager, something that Jones identified when he took the decision to make the switch in the pack for the trip to Cardiff.

"One of Maro's great attributes is his scrummaging," Jones enthused. "He's a strong scrummager so he scrummed at lock and played at six. If we could have numbers we wouldn't have those. We'd have four and a half and five and a half.

"He's doing really well, I'm so pleased with him. That's his second Test as a starting number 6 and playing against Warburton who's played 70 Tests.

"You want your best people scrummaging and there's a massive difference in people's ability to scrum."

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