Itoje, Farrell will guide England to more glory

Date published: June 26 2016

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Eddie Jones said that England had no world class players back in February. Now he has two edging closer to that billing.

England's historic series win is truly down to their work as a collective, with youngs guns holding their nerve and veterans who some were ready to shelve like Chris Robshaw and James Haskell finding new life in Australia.

Robshaw and Haskell deserve every inch of praise sent their way over the last month. But then so do several England players.

Dylan Hartley has led the side exceptionally. Ben Youngs' pass looks quicker and his decision-making sharper. Jonathan Joseph, not known for his defence, tackled above his weight in Sydney especially. Dan Cole, Anthony Watson, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George have also had their moments.

That said, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell deserve to be singled out, because there's a strong argument now that any Test side in the world would want them in their XV.

To start with, England wouldn't have won in the series without the proficency of Farrell's goalkicking. By the end of the series the 24-year-old hand landed 23 out of his 26 attempts off the kicking tee at a conversion rate of 88 percent.

That's truly exceptional even by Farrell's own high standards, and it highlighted how much the Wallabies lack a goalkicker of a similar calibre with Bernard Foley having lost the consistency that helped the Waratahs win a Super Rugby title in 2014.

Only once before has a player scored more than 50 points in a Test series – Michael Lynagh for the Wallabies against France back in 1992 – and now Farrell has blown that previous best figure out of the water with 66 this month.

Goalkicking alone isn't enough to warrant world class status but the consistency of Farrell's decision-making and the improvements he has made to his distribution amongst other areas are pushing him closer to being considered amongst the best in the sport.

Given the astronomical rise Itoje has gone on this season though, you expect he'll beat Farrell to global acclaim.

England's triumph in Sydney was Itoje's 26th start and 26th win for club and country, in a season where he won the Premiership and Champions Cup with Saracens and a Grand Slam and Test series with England, and also was named European Player of the Year.

What a ridiculous list of accolades for a 21-year-old.

He has shown no signs of burnout or being intimidated by the hype. And no wonder Eddie Jones grins when talking about his potential because Itoje's best years are still ahead of him.

He excels statistically but his influence runs deeper than that, barking orders like a ten-year veteran and finding the energy for that extra carry or turnover when others are out on their feet.

Talk of Itoje as a future England captain doesn't seem so rash anymore. Jones will build around him, Farrell, and the rest of England's young core over the next few seasons.

Hard to believe after nine Test wins out of nine under Jones that England's World Cup disaster was less than a year ago. They deservedly clinched a 3-0 series over Australia, and Itoje and Farrell were right at the heart of it.

by Ben Coles

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