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Mitchell: World-class Itoje primed for Wales battle

Mitchell: World-class Itoje primed for Wales battle

Mitchell: World-class Itoje primed for Wales battle

England defence coach John Mitchell hailed Maro Itoje as one of the top second-row forwards in world rugby, ahead of his mouth-watering match-up against Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones in the teams’ Autumn Nations Cup Group A blockbuster.

While Jonny May stole the headlines with two scintillating scores in the Red Rose’s 18-7 win over Ireland last time out, Itoje took the Player of the Match plaudits having been central to a determined and disciplined defensive effort.

Indeed, the towering Saracens lock made a remarkable 24 tackles at Twickenham – without missing a single one – and was instrumental at the breakdown and the set-piece throughout the 80 minutes.

And former All Blacks head coach Mitchell believes Itoje is the driving force behind England’s recent success, with Eddie Jones’ men currently enjoying a six-game winning run and having wrapped up Guinness Six Nations glory last month.

“He is one of the most destructive international locks in the game,” Mitchell, 56, said. “He loves competition and he and James Ryan were really going at it in the Ireland match. He is hugely competitive in a really, really good way.

“He is a very focused individual and the energy he brings on the pitch is just phenomenal. At times I think that if I was playing I would really be buoyed by the energy he brings and he displays a real winning attitude.

“You need those guys because it does not always go your way. When you are defensively under the pump and somebody poaches the ball on the floor, that gives teams enormous energy.

“I love the way he builds up for a Test match. He’ll know that Alun Wyn Jones will be wanting to have a crack next and he will walk towards that challenge just like he does all the other ones.”

England can book their spot in the Autumn Nations Cup showpiece with victory over Wayne Pivac’s Wales in Llanelli on November 28, having already seen off Georgia 40-0 before beating Ireland last time out.

Wales ended their six-game losing run by overcoming the Georgians 18-0 in Round 2, and despite their patchy form of late Mitchell is expecting the 2019 Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam champions to be firing on all cylinders against England.

He added: “Wales are always tough opponents – they are a small rugby nation with a big heart. They just need to have a good performance against England and their whole year is made up.

“It reminds me of playing for Waikato against Auckland – regardless of where we were on the log, if we could get one over Auckland we could walk around the community with our heads held high. That is not dissimilar to Wales – we expect that and we are looking forward to that.”

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