29 September 2023

Ben Earl raised eyebrows when he first arrived at Saracens, says Maro Itoje

29 September 2023

Ben Earl may be taking his debut World Cup by storm but Maro Itoje insists his England team-mate raised eyebrows when he first arrived at Saracens.

Earl has emerged as one of England’s top performers during their canter into the quarter-finals with a group game to spare and he is competing with Billy Vunipola to start at number eight against Samoa on Saturday week.

The dynamic back row was repeatedly overlooked by Eddie Jones despite being crowned Premiership Player of the season in 2022 and even under Steve Borthwick his 2023 Six Nations was cut short, with instructions to work on aspects of his game.

It was not until the World Cup warm-up fixture against Wales at Twickenham last month that he was finally picked in the starting XV – three-and-a-half years after making his Test debut off the bench.

Now his reputation is soaring through his potent carrying, impact in attack and spirited on-field celebrations – a far cry from the 18-year-old Itoje first encountered in 2016.

“When Ben came to Saracens I thought ‘who the hell is this guy?’ He probably didn’t give the best first impression!” Itoje said.

“He was a young guy from Tonbridge and he had this floppy, public school hair. He was very sure of himself!

“He’s always been a nice guy, but you just thought ‘who the hell’s this guy?’ But he’s been great and he’s worked at his game.

“He hasn’t had a linear path. He’s had bumps, peaks and troughs along the way and he’s grown and grown and grown into the player that he is today.

When Ben came to Saracens I thought ‘who the hell is this guy?’ He probably didn’t give the best first impression

“Some of the stuff he’s doing for England now we’ve been seeing for a while at Saracens. And he’s only 25, so he’s only going to get better.

“He’s got great physical attributes but he’s also very attentive, he wants to learn and he wants to improve.

“Through his journey you’ve seen the toughness and the ruggedness to his spirit that he’s kept on persevering.

“No doubt he would have been a bit gutted because he would have thought he was playing really well and was deserving of a place, but for whatever reason he wasn’t getting a look-in.

“But he’s stayed consistent with his performances and he’s always had a great mindset and attitude.

“If you’re consistent over a period of time, even when the proverbial tunnel looks dark, there is light there and he’s shown that. We’re only just beginning to see the fruits of his labour.”

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