'We weren't playing against mugs out there'
REACTION: Maro Itoje wants England to make more of their dominance after an 18-7 win over Ireland in the year-end Nations Cup at Twickenham at the weekend.
England’s second successive victory in Pool A, following a 40-0 rout of Georgia, saw the Six Nations champions surge into an 18-0 lead with half an hour left after two Jonny May tries, including a stunning solo effort from deep inside his own 22, and a couple of penalties from captain Owen Farrell.
Yet for much of the a match it was as if England wanted to test their defence, with the hosts making a staggering 238 tackles compared to Ireland’s 72, according to the official statistics.
At no stage did England look like losing, yet a winning margin of 11 points did not seem a fair reflection of how they defeated Ireland for the fourth match in a row.
“That’s the next step really for us,” said Itoje, after an impressive display that saw the lock make 24 tackles of his own.
“It’s important to remember that Ireland are a serious team.
“We weren’t playing against mugs out there,” the Saracens second row added of a side coached by Andy Farrell, Owen’s father.
England will be assured of finishing top of Pool A and a place in the showpiece match of December’s finals weekend if they win away in Wales on November 28.
But while England usually find themselves facing a hostile crowd in Cardiff when in Wales, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means next weekend’s encounter will be played behind closed doors at Llanelli’s Parc Y Scarlets.
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“I don’t think playing anywhere in Wales is easy,” said Itoje, with England about to face a Welsh side still under pressure from their own public following an 18-0 win over Georgia on Saturday that ended a run of six straight defeats.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, you’re still playing Wales and whether it’s at the Principality, the Scarlets stadium, or a little park, they are going to bring that same intensity.”
The England-Ireland game was also played without spectators because of Covid-19, with the players’ shouts echoing round the stands.
Indeed, just before the botched Ireland line-out that sparked May’s stunning length-of-the-field score, England could be heard saying “Pressure on Kelleher here, pressure on the throw,” in an attempt to rile Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher.
Moments later, the 22-year-old did make a mess of his throw, with Itoje first to the loose ball before it was worked to May.
Itoje, tipped as a possible captain of the British and Irish Lions for next year’s series against world champions South Africa, has upset some traditionalists by appearing to taunt his opponents.
But the 26-year-old insisted he was doing nothing out of the ordinary in a bid to compensate for the lack of a capacity 80,000 crowd on Saturday.
“As players we’ve kind of got used to playing the game without any fans in the stadium, which is quite sad and I hope that situation can change as soon as Covid allows,” said Itoje, capped 41 times by England.
“Now that there are no fans, I think you can just hear me more! With no background noise, everything that is said on the pitch is probably more audible.”