MARO ITOJE admits England were driven on by the fear of being humbled at Twickenham before staging their fightback in a 35-15 victory over Japan.
The shadow of a great upset loomed large on Saturday as the Brave Blossoms built a 15-10 half-time lead.
England took control through Mark Wilson’s score just before the final quarter arrived but it was only when Joe Cokanasiga powered over in the 72nd minute that the underdogs were truly beaten.
Japan humbled South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in a result that sent shockwaves through the game and Itoje has revealed the desperation to avoid a similar result in the third autumn international.
‘I definitely didn’t want that to happen here,’ said Itoje, recalling the Springboks’ 34-32 defeat in the ‘Miracle of Brighton’.
‘I definitely didn’t want to be a part of the first England side to lose to Japan. That was a big motivation, but we shouldn’t have even been in that situation in the first place. It was a good lesson for us to have. No team is easy in international rugby. If you don’t turn up you’re going to get beaten.’
Eddie Jones spared his players the hairdryer treatment at half-time, instead challenging them ‘is that how we want to play?’ as disaster loomed.
Owen Farrell’s arrival after the interval turned the tide as England moved through the gears, but Jones was also impressed by Itoje’s contribution to a team showing 11 changes from the XV narrowly beaten by New Zealand.
‘There was a change in effort and attitude and Owen exemplified that. Maro also stepped forward and became a driving force,’ Jones said.
‘That’s what you want from your best players. When you’re down and struggling, you want your best players to lift you and they did that exceptionally well.
‘Maro is fantastic. By this time next year, at the World Cup, he’ll be the best lock in the world.’
Danny Care had darted over in the third minute, but Japan took control and Itoje admitted: ‘Our attitude wasn’t quite right. We were off as a collective.’