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Itoje to start after for England Launchbury injury blow

By Phil Blanche

Saracens lock Maro Itoje is lined up to make his first England start after Joe Launchbury was ruled out of the RBS 6 Nations match against Ireland.

Launchbury had pulled up in training with a sore hamstring but England had expected the Wasps lock to make Ireland's visit to Twickenham on Saturday.

But the 24-year-old was ruled out last night with Northampton Saints lock Courtney Lawes called up to replace him.

Given that Itoje was preferred to Lawes in Eddie Jones' initial 23-man squad, it now seems likely that the 21-year-old will partner Saracens team-mate George Kruis in the England boiler house against Ireland.

"I think it's a competitive position right now, and that's a good thing," assistant coach Steve Borthwick said of England's second-row area.

"We've got a mixture of players there with different levels of experience.

"That's a really good thing for the squad to make that a competitive area.

"With that it spurs the intensity of training."

Lawes has been handed a reprieve after starting the last game, the 40-9 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.

Launchbury started in England's opening Six Nations match, the 15-9 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, but was on the bench in Rome 10 days ago.

However, it was Lawes who made way for Itoje when Jones named his squad for the Ireland game.

Itoje has forced his way in through a string of excellent performances for Saracens and made his Test debut off the bench against Italy.

Wasps centre Elliot Daly could make his long-awaited debut against Ireland, with the 23-year-old poised to offer cover from the replacements' bench.

The goal-kicking flyer can operate at centre, wing or full-back, and should offer England a host of options off the bench on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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