France lock and former Junior Springbok Paul Willemse has questioned celebrated England counterpart Maro Itoje’s status as a world-class lock.
“The first thing I always say about him is that he’s not a lock,” Willemse said on Sunday after France beat Scotland in Paris. “He’s a loosie in my head.
“He’s a player that can disrupt the match. I’ve also learned a few things watching him play to add to my game. He’s capable of disturbing your momentum in the match, just doing things to throw you a bit on the back foot. You have to respect his quality of disrupting a match.”
Taking care of Itoje is a top priority for France as they prepare to travel to Twickenham where they haven’t won since 2007.
Since Fabien Galthie took over as head coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, France have beaten every opponent they have faced at least once and took the national record to 14 straight victories prior to opening the 2023 Six Nations championship with a loss at Ireland.
“We’ll see what makes Twickenham such a difficult place to go,” said Willemse. “With this team, we haven’t done it so far but it motivates us. We’ve broken almost all of the records with this team, it’s one of the few that’s left.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to use it as extra motivation to go and break that record because it’s there for us to do.”
Sunday’s bonus-point win over Scotland came after this year’s World Cup hosts led 19-7 at the break. It also keeps their slender hopes of retaining the Six Nations title alive.
France kept the in-form Scots at bay at the Stade de France in a game where both sides were shown red cards.
Willemse’s Montpellier and Test teammate Mohamed Haouas was sent off for head contact after lock Grant Gilchrist was given his marching orders for a dangerous tackle.
Tighthead prop Haouas was making his first France start since November 2021. He was also shown a red card against Scotland in 2020. The front-rower is likely to miss the trip to Twickenham with a suspension.
“I know he’s sad because it was his chance to be back in the team, to show what he can do,” said Pretoria-born Willemse. “He had trained well for weeks, he was on-form. No-one is annoyed with him, it’s just a shame.”
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Twitter: @FranceRugby