Eddie Jones believes that Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe could be the next Maro Itoje after naming the teenager in his 31-man England squad for the summer tour of Argentina, with the head coach naming 15 uncapped players for the trip to South America on what he described as a chance to develop the next generation.
The 19-year-old is among six forwards and nine backs who will join the England senior side for the first time as they play the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday 28 May, before embarking on a two-Test tour of Argentina in June.
Isiekwe is handed his first call-up alongside rugby league convert Denny Solomona, the Bath-bound Ospreys flanker Sam Underhill and Auckland Blues fly-half Piers Francis – who joins Northampton Saints ahead of the new season – but Jones paid special attention to the Saracens lock, who made four appearances for the Six Nations Grand Slam-winning England Under-20 side and was handed his first Saracens start just last weekend in the win over Northampton.
“Lock is a focus for us – we want to increase more depth in locks,” Jones said on Thursday. “We have the young guy from Sarries coming in [Isiekwe] who is potentially a very good player. When you look at where he is now compared to where Maro was when he came into the Six Nations, he is going to be a really good player this boy, a really good player. So he is exciting.
“I can’t compare as I didn’t see Maro at that age. What I know is that he can be a very good player if he works hard enough. He is obsessed to want to be great, he has the potential to be a very good player.”
Jones’ admission that he wants more strength in depth at lock is a surprising one, given he has labelled his current options as “world class” in Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, the last of which is also named in the squad after missing out on a place in the British and Irish Lions squad – a decision that infuriated Wasps on Wednesday after his excellent Six Nations campaign.
With Itoje, Kruis and Lawes all selected, Launchbury will be one of the seven senior players heading out on the tour that already have more than 40 international caps to their name, though age and experience is not something that Jones is on the lookout for. Given Itoje’s meteoric rise over the last two seasons, that’s hardly surprising, as the Saracens forward will head out on the Lions tour as the youngest member of Gatland’s squad, but also as a Premiership and European Champions Cup winner.
British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand
Instead, he wants the likes of Isiekwe and Sale’s back-row twins, Ben and Tom Curry, to challenge the established order and make Jones’s task even harder when he welcomes back his 16-man Lions contingent in November.
“What I want these young guys to do is not wait for the senior players to ask them to do things,” Jones said. “I want them to come into the squad and push the envelope….