Itoje injury will cause England to have major rethink

3:38 PM GMT

Maro Itoje was the player England could least afford to lose ahead of the end-of-year Tests. While an injury crisis has enveloped their pack and players seem to be dropping by the weekend, Itoje — a man who never has a bad game — was their beacon of hope.

Itoje’s injury will mean England have to go through a major re-think ahead of the autumn Tests. His partnership in the second-row with George Kruis — one which has become so effective for club and country — was put on hold when news of the latter’s ankle surgery broke last Friday meaning Eddie Jones is now without the second-row partnership which played so effectively in their three-Test series win against Australia.

Itoje’s fractured hand has further ramifications. There was a suggestion that he was being considered for the openside berth with just about every contender for the No.7 falling foul of this injury curse which has invaded the England side.

England are now down to Plan F at openside with James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Sam Jones, Mike Williams and Itoje all out of the November Tests. Eddie Jones has his first major injury headache as England coach.

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But Jones will treat this lengthy casualty list as a bittersweet opportunity. He frequently turns attention towards the 2019 World Cup and reiterates how his success as an England coach will be judged on how they fare in Japan at the next quadrennial rugby gathering rather than in the Six Nations or on standalone Tests. It’s the World Cup or nothing with Jones and his hand is now forced to weigh up some of the more periphery options in the pack.

With regards to the second-row, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes are now favourites to start against South Africa on Nov. 12. But behind that, he may look to Bath’s Charlie Ewels — named in the Elite Player Squad — or his teammate Dave Attwood who toured last summer with the Saxons. Another option could be to draft in Leicester’s Ed Slater while Exeter’s Mitch Lees will also be in the frame.

But it is at openside where Jones has a problem. Haskell has been first-choice and with him still recovering from a toe injury, it looked like Jones may go to his Wasps teammate Sam Jones to plug the gap. But one judo session later and he’s out until next year. This is where England will have to pull a rabbit from the hat ahead of South Africa and Jones is likely to go for another attritional, abrasive option to complement Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola in England’s back-row. Sale’s Josh Beaumont could be a front-runner for this spot while Matt Kvesic will hope he finally gets a chance to impress.

Elsewhere, heading into last weekend’s European action, England were already without Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and Manu Tuilagi for the November Tests but the return of Jonny May and the resurgence of Marland Yarde go some way to equal out those absentees.

England will look at this latest injury blow as an opportunity, but of all the players they could least afford to lose for the autumn Tests, Itoje would be high up that list.

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