Six Nations 2016: England pick Itoje for first start at lock

England's Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje impressed with a powerful second-half display on debut against Italy
Six Nations: England v Ireland
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday 27 February Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
Coverage: Live on ITV, commentary on BBC Radio 5 live & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Saracens forward Maro Itoje will make his first start for England in the Six Nations game against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

Itoje, 21, made his senior debut in the 40-9 defeat of Italy, coming off the bench to play blind-side flanker.

But he now replaces the injured Joe Launchbury in the second row, ahead of the recalled Courtney Lawes.

Prop Joe Marler replaces Mako Vunipola in the only other change from the team that started in Rome.

"Everyone is pushing hard to be in contention, so there were some tight calls on selection," said head coach Eddie Jones.

England starting XV v Ireland
England starting XV v Ireland

England are chasing a first Six Nations title since 2011 and a first Grand Slam since 2003.

Going into the weekend's fixtures, they lead the table on points difference from France, with both teams having won their first two games.

Ireland have made a disappointing start to their defence of the title and sit fourth after a draw with Wales and defeat by France.

On Itoje, England captain Dylan Hartley told BBC Radio 5 live: "Let's just give him that game time and see how he goes, let's not build him up too much and then knock him off his pedestal.

"Courtney Lawes was going to be the next [England World Cup-winning captain] Martin Johnson wasn't he? Now I hear Maro is. Let's just calm down and let him play."

This weekend's live TV and radio coverage
Fri, 26 Feb (20:05 GMT)Wales v FranceBBC One & Radio 5 live
Sat, 27 Feb (14:25 GMT)Italy v ScotlandITV & 5 live sports extra
Sat, 27 Feb (16:50 GMT)England v IrelandITV & Radio 5 live
Six Nations coverage on the BBC

England: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph (both Bath), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter), George Ford (Bath), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton - captain), Dan Cole (Leicester), Maro Itoje, George Kruis (both Saracens), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Alex Goode (all Saracens), Paul Hill, Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Jack Clifford, Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps).


BBC Sport's chief sports writer Tom Fordyce:

"Itoje has been so highly rated for so long that some of his new England team-mates have started calling him 'the chosen one', but this is as much about genuine hope than hype.

"Having started at the same Hertfordshire school as Owen Farrell and George Ford before finishing at the same one as Billy Vunipola, he has been compared to both Martin Johnson and Paul O'Connell by England's defence coach Paul Gustard.

"Those may seem lofty comparisons, but there is sound logic there. Itoje is 21 years old as he makes his first international start, while those two second-row legends made their own debuts at 22. And at 6ft 5ins and 18st 7lbs, Itoje is physically comparable to O'Connell's 6ft 6ins and 17st 8lbs.

"England supporters should be patient. Johnson's defining moment, at the 2003 World Cup, came 10 years on from his debut, while O'Connell's - captaining the Lions, leading Ireland to the Grand Slam - came seven years after his own.

"But Itoje has excelled in every age group and competition he has been thrown into, with his power, dynamism and leadership setting him apart. This could be the start of something special."

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