Six Nations 2018: Maro Itoje targets England return in Rome

Maro Itoje in action for England
Itoje was an integral part of the Lions' squad on tour in New Zealand last summer

Maro Itoje says he is desperate to be involved in England's Six Nations opener in Rome next weekend as his side struggle with a mounting injury list.

Head coach Eddie Jones will be without 13 players, with doubts over five more, as he begins a campaign to win a third straight title against Italy on Sunday.

Lock Itoje only started one of England's three autumn internationals.

Itoje told BBC Sport: "When you're sitting out watching the team play you're desperate to be a part."

The 23-year-old, who was left out of Jones' training squad last autumn, suffered a broken jaw in Saracens' defeat by Harlequins in December.

He has been nursing a hip injury at the team's current training camp in Portugal.

"The rest I had in the autumn was to refresh myself, to get the chance to work on things I normally wouldn't get the chance to work on with the pressures of playing a match on the weekend," he said.

"And watching the first game against Argentina, I was very proud of the boys - but you want to be part of that, you want to be right in the mix."

England will be missing Itoje's Saracens team-mate Billy Vunipola for the entire Six Nations after he broke his right arm in the Champions Cup draw with Ospreys, having only just returned from surgery on his right knee and a further shoulder problem last summer.

Billy Vunipola will miss this year's Six Nations
Billy Vunipola was influential as England retained the Six Nations in 2017

With back-up number eight Nathan Hughes also on the injury-list, Jones is missing significant ball-carrying options.

But Itoje, one of the breakout stars of the British and Irish Lions Test series in New Zealand last summer, does not believe that he can fill the void that the younger Vunipola brother has left.

He said: "Both at club level and in the England environment Billy's an outstanding player - there are things that he can do that no other rugby player can do.

"So he's gone - a lot of other players injured too - but I'm not going to try to be Billy Vunipola, because I can't do that.

"What I'm going to try to do is be the best version of myself, and when I'm at my best I believe that I'm a decent player."

England host Wales in the second week of the tournament, before travelling to Edinburgh to meet a resurgent Scotland in the final weekend in February.

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