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‘Itoje is the most impressive young rugby player I’ve seen in a long, long time’

The 21-year-old Saracens lock starts his first Test for England against Ireland today.

FORMER IRELAND AND London Irish second row Bob Casey doesn’t expect England’s pack to be weakened in the slightest, despite a late change in the engine room.

Between being named in a 23-man squad and the announcement of the starting XV, leading lock Joe Launchbury was forced to pull out of contention for this afternoon’s meeting against Ireland (kick-off 16.50) with a hamstring injury.

Italy v England - 2016 RBS Six Nations - Stadio Olimpico Source: Andrew Matthews

lThe Wasps man’s place in the row was filled by Maro Itoje; a 116 kilo 21-year-old with a reputation even more formidable than his 6′ 5″ frame.

“The one thing they lose with Launchbury is the size. He is a big lump of a man,” Casey told The42 from the Irish Sponsorship Summit 2016 at Croke Park.

“Now, Itoje is a big man – George Kruis and Maro Itoje are two of the best second rows I’ve seen in the Premiership in a good while.”

Ultan Dillane No country for old men: Ultan Dillane is set to make his Test bow as a second row at the age of 22. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s own totemic second row Devin Toner this week admitted he hadn’t watched a great deal of the Saracens wunderkind in action, though ‘the hype’ was inescapable. For Casey, long-since immersed in the English rugby scene and now CEO of London Irish, that hype is well worth believing.

“I’ve watched him for two years now in the flesh and he is very, very impressive.

“He’s probably one of the most impressive young rugby players I’ve seen in a long time. He’s got pretty much most things. His line-out is excellent; he’s got an ability to contest line-outs, the ability to read line-outs, a very bright guy.

media_1023813_DR_RB3_6125 Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“His athletic prowess: he can get over the ball and be very hard to shift, he’s got hands and can offload… then he was captain of that under 20 team and everyone says he just speaks so well, real clarity, an inspirational character.

“The only thing against him is his age, but he didn’t look too fazed against Italy.”

London Irish CEO Bob Casey was speaking ahead of the historic Aviva Premiership game between his club and  Saracens on March 12th at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena which will be broadcast  exclusively live on the Setanta Sports pack. To subscribe visit www.setanta.com

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Sean Farrell

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