England’s emphatic victory over reigning Six Nations champions Ireland was soured only by the knee injury suffered by Maro Itoje, who risks missing the rest of the tournament after limping off the field with a knee injury that referee Jerome Garces initially thought was a broken leg.
Itoje will have a scan in the coming days on what Eddie Jones said was “probably some sort of medial ligament injury”, with the England camp sweating on the fitness of one of their players.
But such was the initial concern over Itoje’s condition when he fell backwards out of ruck, referee Garces was overheard on his microphone saying “I think he’s broken his leg” twice, before Itoje managed to get back to his feet and rejoin the defensive line, albeit one one leg.
England will not know the extent of the damage for the next few days as Itoje will have to wait until any swelling has reduced before having a scan, though should it prove to be an injury to his medial collateral ligament, he could be sidelined from a matter of weeks to up to four months.
It was the only sour note on a day when England reinstated their claims to being the best team in the Northern Hemisphere, with the 32-20 victory over Ireland standing as only the second time the Red Rose has emerged triumphant at Landsdowne Road since the famous Grand Slam-clinching victory of 2003.
And while an evidently satisfied Jones enjoyed the fact that his players had met their end of the bargain in physically outmuscling their Irish counterparts, he sent out a warning to the rest of the Six Nations that they will only get better from here.
“The intensity at which we played pleased me most,” Jones said. “When you play Ireland at home you know it’s going to be a physical game and we prepared for that. We knew we had to win that battle to win the game.
“Some games are immensely physical, some are more tactical. We probably shaded them a bit in that area.
“We know they’re a top team. They’re well coached, well drilled. I thought our intensity, particularly in the first part of the game was outstanding.
“Where does this rank? The only thing I know is that the next one will be better. We are a team that’s still going. We’re nowhere near our best. We’re looking forward to playing better than that - and we will.
“The only team who will be looking at us is France. If you take away the 14 points they gifted Wales, they’d have won that game. So we won’t get too far away from ourselves, we know France will be a difficult game and we’ll make sure we’re well prepared for it. We’ll have a short break and rip back into it.”
Jones’ counterpart Joe Schmidt was in agreement that his side were overpowered in all aspects of the game, in what he described as a “reality check” ahead of the Rugby World Cup in September. Up until Saturday evening, Ireland were being described at favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at the end of the year, but based on this display they still have some way to go to cement that status.
"I think we were physically bettered,” said Schmidt. “I don't think I've seen a game where our opponents got so many physical, dominant tackles. Where our opponents have carried physically in the manner that they did.”
Schmidt wasn’t best pleased with seeing Keith Earls leave the game at half-time, though he stopped short of accusing England of intentionally targeting the experienced wing. Earls was hit late by Tom Curry that earned the England flanker 10 minutes in the sin-bin early in the match, before he was then charged into by Itoje as they competed for a high ball, with Itoje very much out of control and taking his eyes off the ball to look at Earls.
"It got quite physical with Keith Earls,” Schmidt added. “I don't think it was intentional, but it certainly put Keith out of the game and he was our most-experienced back three player in the game.”
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