Six Nationa
Eddie Jones reluctant to fast-track Maro Itoje into England side
PA Sport
February 1, 2016
Maro Itoje of Saracens looks on
Maro Itoje of Saracens looks on© Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Eddie Jones refuses to fast-track Maro Itoje into his England team, but the Saracens lock could yet feature in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland.

Jones was present at Allianz Park last weekend to see Itoje's man of the match performance against Bath, describing it as his finest game for the Aviva Premiership champions. The 21-year-old was omitted from the 23 retained in preparation for the trip to Edinburgh with Jones believing elements of his game still need work before he is given his first cap.

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His hand may be forced, however, if Courtney Lawes fails to recover from his hamstring injury with Thursday's team announcement set as the deadline for the Northampton second row to prove his fitness.

"Courtney is progressing. We'll give him until Thursday. It looks pretty positive. He probably won't train until Thursday but we're hopeful he'll be all right," Jones said. "I went to Saracens - I hid in the stands - and it was the best game I've seen Itoje play for them. It was really good, very impressive.

"It's never too late to get in the 23. The 23 isn't set in stone, but generally speaking the 23 that we kept are the front runners. Now they can play themselves out of selection by injury and by attitude, so there are still opportunities.

"But remember that my job is to make Test rugby players. There's a step from club rugby to Test rugby here, as there is in every country. There are subtle but strong differences between a good club player and a good Test player.

"I want Maro to be a 60-Test player. I don't want him to be a 10 or 20-Test player. Sixty-Test players start their career well and build on that. Some players you can expose too late, some too early. My gut feeling on Maro is that he's definitely progressing, but he needs just a little more time.

"And if he's going to play 60 Tests for England we can wait because that would mean he's a bloody good player and that's what I think he will be."

Jones still hopes to have Manu Tuilagi available for the final two rounds of the Six Nations despite the Leicester centre suffering a hamstring injury.

Tuilagi, who recently returned from 15 months out with a groin problem, is expected to miss two matches but could yet make his long-awaited England comeback against Wales and France.

"I don't think this really affects his chances - he should be back for Leicester in two or three weeks," said Jones, who will announce his vice-captain on Thursday. "It's only a slight strain and he was pretty confident. It means he will get a little bit less game time, but we'd hope he'd still be available for the Wales game."

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