Maro Itoje was at the centre of a dominant pack performance by England on Saturday as Eddie Jones' charges surged to a 18-7 victory over Ireland.
England were particularly dominant upfront with the forwards winning collisions, disrupting the Irish lineout and caused the Irish a few problems at scrum time. In fact, the scrum was the only part of the game where the English pack were not dominant with a few free-kicks and penalties going against them but they did manage to make live difficult for Ireland from the set-piece on two occasions.
With 68% possession and 72% territory, Ireland spent most of the game with ball in hand in the England half. England's defence stood resolute for the large majority of the game missing just 13 of their 208 attempted tackles and conceded just seven line breaks with Ireland's only points coming from a bit of magic from Billy Burns and Jacob Stockdale in 73rd minute.
England's pack played a huge role on defence with loosehead prop Mako Vunipola registering the lowest tackle count from the starting pack making all 15 of his attempted tackles. His brother Billy topped the tackle count with 25 with Maro Itoje five off the pace with 20 in total. The starting pack collectively missed three tackles the entire game while making a massive 146. The forwards off the bench followed suit making all of their 15 tackles collectively.
Itoje was named man of the match in the victory with the England second-rower having an overall incredible impact on the game. He did not miss one of his attempted 20 tackles while he also attended more rucks than any other England player (38) with only Andrew Porter (41) bettering that tally while Caelon Doris matched it for Ireland.
As mentioned before England had very little ball in hand on attack on Saturday with Maro Itoje making just two carries. The 26-year-old managed just four metres from his two carries. His first carry came after 30 minutes and resulted in a penalty for England which Owen Farrell kicked to the touchline. England got another penalty and drove towards the line where Ireland managed to force a turnover through their maul defence.
His only other carry was in an England attack into the Irish half which ended in an Irish penalty in their 22 after Joe Launchbury went off his feet at the ruck following a Jonathan Joseph run. Itoje was key to ensuring that any attacking possession England did have, that they held onto the ball and made the most of it. Eddie Jones' men set just 56 rucks in the 80 minutes, a stark contrast to Ireland's 141. Itoje attended 26 of those rucks, featuring as first arriving player three times and 15 times as the second arriving player at the ruck.
Itoje featuring in 26 attacking rucks was the highest tally of any England player with Tom Curry the second best with 15. He was also the first arriving England player at 9 defensive rucks with only Tom Curry edging him by one in this stat. It was clear that England's plan was to limit the number of bodies they committed to the rucks on defence and rather fan out for the next wave of Irish attacks. England committed just three players to a defensive ruck on just three occasions and just two players on 14 occasions.
Ireland spent 21.28 minutes of the game on attack meaning that Itoje was almost making a tackle every minute Ireland spent on attack and hitting a defensive ruck every second minute.
This meant that Eddie Jones' side had a small number of turnovers won in the game. They claimed just five breakdown turnovers the entire game with Itoje claiming a crucial one in the 66th minute.
Having just stopped an Irish attack inside his 22, Itoje had another go at the ball after a tackle on James Ryan.
The likes of Doris, Porter and Connors spot this with Itoje effectively taking four players out of the Irish attack with the tackle and compete.
The England second-rower was incredibly busy defensively and while he did manage to make 20 tackles, just two were dominant with this hit on James Ryan, who was one of Ireland's most dominant carriers on Saturday, one of his best.
Itoje was also a menace at the lineout with him and Joe Launchbury disrupting Ireland's set-piece at every opportunity.
Ireland had a total of 17 lineouts in the game with England picking off four of their throws while other 13 were far from clean takes.
He came up with this lineout steal for England just five metres from his line as he disrupted James Ryan take with Kyle Sinckler reacting quickest to the loose ball.
Again here, he gets in front of Peter O'Mahony and Ronan Kelleher overthrows the lineout.
This forces Ross Byrne to come in and clear the ball, with Itoje then lining up and chasing Hugo Keenan who puts in the low clearance that did not find touch.
In the 67th minute, Itoje stalled another promising attacking opportunity for Ireland as he rose up with James Ryan to compete for Rob Herring's lineout throw.
Ryan manages to secure possession but the competition for the ball sees him come down awkwardly and results in Ireland being unable to get their driving maul going close to the line.
The England star also put significant pressure on Ireland's kicking game particularly on starting scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.
At every opportunity, Itoje tried to charge the scrumhalf down with his box kicks.
He did this from Gibson-Park's very first kick of the game. The scrumhalf manages to get a good kick in but Itoje lets him know that he is there.
Itoje did this again in the 19th minute of the game.
Ireland recognised the threat Itoje was proving to be in this area as he did this once more to Gibson-Park before Andrew Porter stepped in.
With Ireland under pressure from a scrum near their own line, Porter manages to hold onto Itoje long enough for the scrumhalf to get set.
When he releases Itoje, he is offside and is told by referee Pascal Gauzere that he is offside and is unable to attempt the charge down.
His pressure on the kickers was clear from the get-go as he made this tackle on James Lowe while the winger tried to clear.
All in all, it was a fantastic performance from the England second-rower who finished the game with 20 tackles, two carries, one lineout steal, one turnover won and 38 ruck appearances.
If he continues to put in shifts as he did on Saturday, it's hard to see him not starting in a red jersey in South Africa next year. His high work rate and abrasive approach to the game could be a key element in nullifying the impact of the Springbok pack.