Itoje wants England to 'unlock potential' against Springboks

Maro Itoje has urged England to "unlock their potential" by producing a full 80-minute performance against South Africa in their final Autumn Nations international.

England head into their last match of 2022 on the back of a remarkable draw with New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday, coming back from 19 points down with 10 minutes left to finish all square at 25-25.

But England's late trio of tries could not disguise a sluggish start to a match where they were second-best for most of the game and dynamic lock Itoje is determined to avoid a repeat against the world champion Springboks next Saturday.

"Playing South Africa at Twickenham - I'm really looking forward to it," Itoje told reporters. "I only wish the game is a little bit sooner because we left a lot out there against New Zealand.

"While the second half was a bit more how we want to play, next week is an opportunity to hopefully play how we want to play for the full 80 minutes."

The 28-year-old Saracens second-row star added: "We have an incredible amount of potential in this team, we just need to unlock it. We are spending more and more time together and are becoming more cohesive, so hopefully it will come.

"You never want to be too happy with a draw, but it's better than losing. Hopefully it will put us in better stead for South Africa, who will be a great challenge."

Itoje, a member of the England team overwhelmed 32-12 by the Springboks in the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, is well aware of the enduring difficulty of playing South Africa, who will arrive in London fresh from thrashing Italy 63-21 in Genoa.

"South Africa haven't changed the way they play since their first game in international rugby!" joked Itoje. "Strong set-piece, strong kicking game, strong defence."

England coach Eddie Jones may decide against deploying two specialist No 8s in Sam Simmonds and Billy Vunipola in the back row, a tactic he deployed against the All Blacks, in order to bolster his side's line-out and so disrupt the Springboks.

Itoje could move to blindside flanker, with David Ribbans -- who impressed off the bench against New Zealand -- starting at lock.

"We probably need three jumpers against South Africa. It's going to be a higher kicking game so we'll have a look at that," Jones said. "We were a bit disappointed early on against New Zealand about the effectiveness of our ruck defence."

- 'No qualms' over Smith -

Jones, meanwhile, continued to back England fly-half Marcus Smith's decision to kick the ball dead in overtime against New Zealand rather than launch a make-or-break effort to win the game.

Former England backs Will Greenwood and Mike Brown, as well as 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, were among those criticising Smith and the current set-up for a lack of ambition.

But Jones, citing the approach of French referee Mathieu Raynal, said: "It's easy to make a decision on the sideline but the players understood that Mathieu Raynal was penalising very heavily the attacking ruck.

"He's got an exceptionally high penalty count against the attacking ruck so when we didn't get a go-forward kick reception the players made the decision to not put any more money on the table, pick up and leave. I don't have any qualms with the decision they made."

jdg/bsp