Rugby World Cup Betting: Super Maro could be England's trump card

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones had a frustrating afternoon against Maro Itoje
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones had a frustrating afternoon against Maro Itoje
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Maro Itoje is becoming a talisman for England in the Six Nations and Ralph Ellis says there are signs he could have an even bigger impact...

"The more I look at Itoje the more I see the bigger picture of a player who could be pivotal to deliver Jones’s ultimate goal of winning the World Cup in Japan in a year’s time."

It was one of the enduring images of the Lions tour last summer, Alun Wyn Jones joining in the delighted supporters chanting of "Oh, Maro Itoje."

As the final whistle drew nearer and nearer at Twickenham on Saturday, and Wales fought in vain to find the try that might snatch victory, you suspect Jones was muttering something similar but very different: "Oh no, Maro Itoje."

For if anything summed up how Saracens' 23-year-old lock has come of age as a Test player and is now pivotal to England's success, it was the way he dominated his Lions room mate.

Itoje's performance was not one to grab headlines. They were reserved for the arguments of TV match officials and the finishing of Jonny May as well as Sam Underhill's heroic tackle.

But the way he fought the far more experienced Wales captain simply underlined that Itoje has that rare combination of talent and ferocious winning mentality that makes the difference.

He has this astonishing ability to dive into the middle of a mountain of forwards and somehow come out with the ball.

And in matches where the margins are fine, he has a habit of coming out on the winning side - in 19 Test appearances for England and the Lions now he's finished on the losing side only twice.

Having backed Eddie Jones's team at [3.7] for the Grand Slam before the tournament started I feel more confident that's a winning bet, and will actually be going in with some more at the current price of [2.84].

Next up for England is the Calcutta Cup in a fortnight's time and for all the quality of Scotland's exciting win over France you'd have to say there should be no fears going to Murrayfield and England are quite rightly [1.47] to win there.

The more I look at Itoje, though, the more I see the bigger picture of a player who could be pivotal to deliver Jones's ultimate goal of winning the World Cup in Japan in a year's time.

Reading his interviews in the build up to Saturday's Twickenham win it's clear he didn't just get on well with Jones as room mates on the Lions tour, but that he picked the Welshman's brains for his professionalism and attitude to training too.

He then saw the duel with his far more experienced Lions team mate as a personal challenge and threw heart and soul into it.

Everything you read or see about him off the field looks perfect too. He's intelligent, educated, respectful, but with a steely determination to make it to the very top.

Yes, he had his path paved with a rugby playing scholarship to Harrow after having his talent identified at an early age. But unlike many who are given those opportunities and take them for granted, he's always worked to make the most of his chances.

England already have one genuine world class player in their ranks in Owen Farrell, and there's little doubt that with another year's experience under his belt Itoje will also deserve to be put in that bracket.

Come next Autumn we could all be singing "Oh, Maro Itoje".

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