Eddie Jones believes “second-season syndrome” explains Maro Itoje’s slide in form since British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last year.
The Saracens lock made his debut against Italy two years ago and starred in the Lions' drawn Test series in New Zealand in 2017.
However, the England head coach predicted, the Saracens forward will emerge stronger from his current dip and prove a formidable presence at the Rugby World Cup next year.
“It is difficult when you come out of the blocks in the first season because you not only carry more expectation, you carry more attention from other players,” Jones said, employing a cricket analogy to explain why his lock forward is finding life tougher. “First season, no one knows your best shot, no one knows where you score runs. Second season, everyone knows, they take that away from you and you’ve got to find a different way to score. That’s what he’s finding at the moment.”
Jones believes opponents have found a way to nullify Itoje’s ability to use his long arms to disrupt opposition ball. “He is an energetic player and he got a lot of his energy from around the ruck,” Jones said.
“What he is going through at the moment is very natural … he is still going to be a great player for us. Whatever happens for the rest of the Six Nations we will come out of this a stronger side. I hate losing but this has been a great experience for us. The expectation on us is high and we have to embrace that and cope with it.”
Jones will stick with Itoje for Saturday’s must-win game against France as England bid to keep alive hopes of a record third successive Six Nations title.