Six Nations: England lock Itoje expected to be fit to face Ireland

By Sports Desk March 11, 2022

England are "really optimistic" Maro Itoje will be fit for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with Ireland.

The British and Irish Lions lock has been struggling with illness ahead of the round four clash at Twickenham.

Red Rose forwards coach Matt Proudfoot provided an encouraging update on Itoje on the eve of the game.

He said: "Maro was a little sick overnight so we're just giving him an opportunity to recover, but we're really optimistic he’ll be alright."

England prop Kyle Sinckler recovered from a back injury and will start against second-placed Ireland.

"Kyle fully trained. He had a great training session and looked really good," Proudfoot said.

England and Ireland have won two and lost one of their three matches ahead of a huge encounter in London.

Proudfoot says Eddie Jones' side are in great shape as they battle to win the title.

"For us it's a great opportunity to go after them. The team has trained really, really well and every week it’s got more and more competitive," he said.

"The preparation has been great and when they walked off the field today (Friday), you could see the confidence in the eyes of the players.

"We know we've got to go after them. Ireland have been together for a big part of the year because of their large Leinster contingent, so we know they have that as an advantage, but we're eager for the opportunity.

"It tends to be the deeper you go into the Six Nations, it gets more and more intense. This is probably going to be the most intense game we've played since the Springboks."

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    Dan Biggar was bemused by criticism of Wales' approach to their first Test in South Africa, wondering if they were expected to "just roll the carpet out".

    Wales came agonisingly close to a famous win in Pretoria, ultimately going down 32-29 following four costly yellow cards – including one for Biggar.

    After playing a brief period with 12 men, Wales had 13 on the pitch when an unlikely try gave Biggar a conversion that would have secured an improbable late lead.

    Instead, he missed the posts and was then punished for a knock-on at the other end, allowing Damian Willemse to settle the match from the tee.

    There would have undoubtedly been some relief in the Springboks camp as they were ultimately able to celebrate following their first home game in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

    Trailing 18-3 at half-time, South Africa captain Siya Kolisi acknowledged afterwards: "They [Wales] got under our skin."

    There were multiple confrontations between the two sets of players off the ball, and Kolisi added his team "did a couple of things out of character".

    When Biggar subsequently faced the media, he could not understand why Wales were expected to shoulder the blame for incidents of this nature.

    "I don't know what the referee expected us to do," he said. "Just come here, lie down and give South Africa everything their own way?

    "From our point of view, we wanted to try to get in their faces, get in their faces and not take a backwards step. That's part of the game.

    "We were coming here, and if you stand off South Africa out here, then you'll get steam-rolled pretty quickly. You need some aggression and competitiveness and get into it.

    "I didn't see any issue. They were just as niggly, competitive and as abrasive as we were. From our point of view, that was perfect for us.

    "The decisions will be analysed. But from our point of view, I don't understand why people are bothered about it.

    "It's a Test match, and we're away from home against the world champions. I'm not quite sure what people expected from us, just roll the carpet out and applaud them off the pitch?

    "I don't know what the issue is. It's a Test match and we were more than happy to get stuck into them. That's what Test matches are about.

    "I really don't understand. I see it as a non-event. That's exactly what you want from a Test match; you want it confrontational, you want it aggressive.

    "There was no dirty play or anything. We just went at it and got confrontational. It worked for us, certainly in the first half.

    "I've got no issue whatsoever. Whatever happens on the field, you shake hands afterwards, and there is absolutely zero issue."

  • England looking to Bairstow again as Bumrah's India pummel hosts at Edgbaston England looking to Bairstow again as Bumrah's India pummel hosts at Edgbaston

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    India scored a world-record 35 runs from one Stuart Broad over as captain Jasprit Bumrah took centre stage with the bat. Bumrah is better known for his work with the ball, and the skipper then reduced England to 44-3 when he sent back Alex Lees, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope.

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    India are 2-1 ahead in this series, one that began last year but had to be curtailed before the fifth Test got under way due to COVID-19 concerns in the tourists' ranks. This long-delayed match is therefore decisive, with England needing a victory to force a drawn series.

    Rather than go after the win, avoiding a heavy defeat could become the priority, but at this stage the hosts will still believe they can salvage this situation, given positivity is flowing through the team after the recent 3-0 rout of New Zealand.

    Broad had a rotten morning, entering the record books in unwanted fashion when Bumrah set about his bowling. The previous Test record of 28 runs from an over was obliterated, aided by Broad bowling a high wide that raced to the boundary before being clubbed for six off a no-ball.

    Bumrah finished on 31 not out when Broad held a catch off James Anderson (5-60) to remove Mohammed Siraj in the next over.

    Three rain delays affected England's reply, but the batting was not up to scratch. The most damaging dismissal was surely that of Root to a snorter of a delivery that climbed rapidly into the batsman, drawing a thin edge to wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant. Now Bairstow, whose past three Test scores have been 136, 162 and 71 not out, will aim to lead a recovery effort alongside the skipper.


    Anderson at it again

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    England hardly need to look far back in the history books for inspiration. In the third Test against New Zealand, they were 55-6 in their first innings but rallied to post 360 all out. The seventh-wicket stand of 241 runs between Bairstow and Jamie Overton saved the day that time, and something special is required again here.

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    World champions South Africa required an 83rd-minute penalty from Damian Willemse to defeat an indisciplined Wales side 32-29 in Pretoria.

    The Springboks' first home match in front of a crowd since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup was an epic – albeit not the sort the South Africa fans might have anticipated.

    Despite four yellow cards that saw Wales squander a half-time advantage, Wayne Pivac's men almost rescued a remarkable result, only to be denied at the last.

    Two Louis Rees-Zammit tries gave Wales a commanding lead, but Dan Biggar headed to the sin bin shortly before the interval, and Bongi Mbonambi powered over following the restart.

    Malcolm Marx also crossed, and the visitors appeared to have collapsed after Cheslin Kolbe's try was followed by a yellow card for Alun Wyn Jones – the awarding of which caused some confusion.

    Rees-Zammit went from hero to zero as his desperate attempt to stop a South Africa try saw him join Jones on the sidelines, and Wales were down to 12 men and behind when Rhys Carre's intervention resulted in a penalty try.

    But the tourists did not lack spirit and sensationally drew level again through Dewi Lake with 13 on the pitch, only for Biggar to marginally miss the posts with the conversion when he could have secured a late lead.

    Instead, Biggar's knock-on at the other end allowed Willemse to kick the Springboks to a memorable triumph to begin this three-Test series, which continues in Bloemfontein next Saturday.

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