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Itoje wants England to play to their full potential in the South Africa final

Maro Itoje insists the climax of the autumn against South Africa cannot come soon enough as England respond to the dramatic draw with New Zealand by aiming for full performance.

Eddie Jones’ side fought back from a 19-point deficit to earn a 25-25 draw against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday, a stunning late volley of tries that made up for a passive first half.

Frustrated that England only clicked after the All Blacks established an almost vulnerable lead, Itoje demands they pursue world champions Springboks relentlessly.

“Playing against South Africa in Twickenham – I’m really looking forward to that. I just wish the game was a little earlier because we missed a lot against New Zealand,” said the Saracens’ second row.

“While the second half was a little bit more how we wanted to play, next week is an opportunity to hopefully play the full 80 minutes the way we want to play.

“We have incredible potential in this team, we just have to unleash it. We’re spending more and more time together and becoming more cohesive, so hopefully it will come.

“I’m proud that we stuck with it and didn’t walk away and proud that we played great rugby towards the end of that game but we have to play like that throughout the game.

“You should never be satisfied with a draw, but it’s better than losing. Hopefully that will help us better for South Africa, which will be a big challenge.

“South Africa hasn’t changed the way they play since their first game in international rugby! Strong standards, strong shooting, strong defence.”

Jones will shelve the experiment of playing eighth specialists Sam Simmonds and Billy Vunipola together in the back row to bolster their line-up against South Africa.

England’s head coach has stressed the importance of having set-piece options in anticipation of the Springboks’ air attack, noting that Itoje has replaced Simmonds on the blindside flanker and Dave Ribbans has started on the lockdown.

“We probably need three jumpers against South Africa. It’s going to be a high-kicking game, so we’re going to look at that,” Jones said.

“We were a bit disappointed against New Zealand at the start with the effectiveness of our ruck defence. Ardie Savea we handled pretty well.

“Tom Curry and Sam Simmonds were good defensively and this is the best friendly I’ve seen Billy Vunipola play since 2019.”

Jones has continued to support the onfield decision that Marcus Smith should dead kick the ball in overtime rather than launch an all-or-nothing attack in hopes of victory.

Former England stars Will Greenwood and Mike Brown, along with world champion coach Sir Clive Woodward, have criticized the call for a lack of ambition.

“It’s easy to make a decision on the touchline, but the players understood that (referee) Mathieu Raynal punished the attacking ruck very hard,” Jones said.

“He has an exceptionally high number of penalties against the attacking ruck, so the players decided to stop putting money on the table, pick it up and leave when we didn’t get a kick reception. I have no qualms about the decision they made.”

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