Maro Itoje has launched a passionate defence of England captain Owen Farrell – despite calls for him to replace his Saracens team-mate.
Farrell had a second-half to forget during the Six Nations capitulation against Scotland last weekend as England blew a 31-point lead to draw 38-38 in their final 2019 Six Nations game.
In the astonishing curtain closer, England’s skipper was pulled from the action by head coach Eddie Jones, who said the fly-half had ‘lost a bit of his edge’.
Itoje has emerged as a candidate for the captaincy
England have suffered defeat in five of the 12 Tests which Farrell has presided as captain, and there are suggestions the responsibility is too much of a burden for the kicker.
Itoje’s name has been mentioned as a potential replacement to relieve some of the pressure on Farrell, however the lock insists his Saracens team-mate remains the best man for the job.
“I’ve seen him as a captain and when he’s not captain and I think he improves when he has that responsibility,” he told talkSPORT in an exclusive interview.
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“He improves in terms of the way he communicates, the way he plays, the way he carries himself and the way he thinks about the team. Almost all aspects of his game improve.
“He’s the type of player and the type of person who lives and breathes rugby. So there are not many people, if anyone, who have a better rugby intellect than Owen.”
And Itoje insists has no leadership ambitions of his own, focusing only on doing whatever it takes to win.
There have been calls to replace Farrell as captain
“That’s not in my psyche,” he added.
“My main concern, first and foremost, is to do anything I can to support the teams that I’m playing in.
“Winning is the most important thing for me, it’s not about egos, it’s about helping my team do what needs to be done in order to win.
“At the moment, part of that role is supporting the captain.
“I think Owen has done a fantastic job. I’ve been up close and seen it with my own eyes. He commands respect from the whole squad.”
Itoje missed the majority of England’s Six Nations campaign after picking up a left medial ligament injury during the opening victory over Ireland.
Itoje featured in England’s victory over Ireland before picking up an injury
After watching on from the sidelines, the 24-year-old gave his take on where it went wrong for England, as they missed out on the Championship to Wales.
“Every game of rugby throws different challenges at you,” he continued.
“Whether it’s the team, the opposition, the referee or the crowd.
“All those different facets of the game are changing all the time and they throw different obstacles that you have to jump over.
Farrell was pulled from the action against Scotland
“There have been times when we’ve faced these hurdles and we’ve overcome those challenges.
“There’s also been times when we haven’t done as well as we should’ve done in those situations. Obviously, Scotland is an example.
“It’s not as if we’re incapable of doing it, it’s about making sure we’re more consistent and we don’t let teams stay on top of us for that long.”
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