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Maro Itoje protected by Eddie Jones but must show England hunger

Eddie Jones has challenged Maro Itoje to write his own headlines when he makes his first start for England on Saturday -- but is trying to shield the second-row from the hype that has already seen him tipped as a future captain of his country.

Itoje has been the coming man since he skippered England's Under-20s to their 2014 Junior Championship title. Even then, Itoje was a slightly different proposition to his teammates, telling ESPN about his interests in poetry and African politics prior to the 2014 final in Auckland.

He has been compared by some to Martin Johnson and, with more than a touch of tongue-in-cheek, a Vauxhall Viva. On Friday, Sir Clive Woodward became the latest credible rugby sage to confidently predict Itoje will one day lead his national team.

So when England run out against Ireland at Twickenham, it's fair to say there will be a heavy burden of expectation on him.

Jones' response to the building pressure this week was to describe him as a "work in progress", sending the message: "Let's make sure we allow him to develop". He has also kept his budding star from the glare of the media, a protective approach similar to that the England coach used with the young Matt Giteau when in charge of the Australian team.

But Itoje will not have an easy run under Jones; despite Saturday being his first start, he will be expected to reach Test level pace from the outset against Ireland. He just might not get to talk about it straight after the match

"I want him to be a great rugby player and I don't want him to be built up to be a headline before he's a headline," Jones said.

"I'm taking a duty of care with him. I want this kid to play 70-80 Tests; he's good enough. But I want him to earn his stripes.

"When he [has] played a massive game for England, won lineouts, won a significant Test match, I'll let him talk to you [the press] ... when he deserves some media exposure. He doesn't deserve media exposure. He has done nothing [yet]."

Itoje will be wary of the pitfalls that face the versatile player who is moved around a team and the difficulties that brings for becoming an established first-choice pick. He is adept in the back-row and in the locks and Jones sees him as England's long-term equivalent of South Africa's Eben Etzebeth -- a No.4.

To realise that potential, though, the coach has said Itoje needs to harness his inner hunger -- a desire and drive that takes you from promising Test player into a world-class star.

Jones holds No.8 Rodney So'oialo as nonpareil as an example of someone who has followed such a process and explained how the All Black's drive to provide for his family brought him the 62 caps he won between 2002 and 2009.

"Sometimes circumstances bring it out, sometimes team environment brings it out, or some inspirational person," Jones said of So'oialo. "So, Itoje has got it, he has just got to find it."

Clearly, feeling as if he could breeze through games would be unlikely to push Itoje along the path of self improvement.

"My job is to make them not comfortable," Jones said. "And that is the only way we are going to change what has happened in English rugby over the last period of time.

"I can't just bang heads all the time or I will lose them. So it's a matter of finding a way with each of them. It's getting back to world-class thing. We will have world-class players here. There is talent here. It is just finding the right mix of their desire, their attitude, their commitment, their work ethic."

Itoje looked at home in the Test arena on his debut against Italy from the bench in round two of the Six Nations. A home international against Ireland will be an altogether different proposition but his Saracens and England teammate Owen Farrell was confident he could cope with the pressure.

Farrell has known Itoje since their school days at St George's in Harpenden, Hertforshire, when the second-row flitted between rugby, the shot put and basketball.

"He was an athlete then" was the take from Farrell, who he continued to monitor Itoje's progress as they developed at Saracens' academy. Now, on Saturday, they will both be in England's starting XV against Ireland.

"He's a magnificent player," Farrell said of Itoje. "Physically, he is outstanding as everyone can see; what you can't see is his attitude, the way he carries himself and what he's about as a bloke. It all fits to being a world-class player.

"He knows how much work he has to do. He's very humble and quiet but also pretty confident in himself. That never boils over into any form of arrogance whatsoever but you can tell he's got something special.

"No occasion will bother him, so making his first start for England he'll just be himself. He's a brilliant player and he'll show that at the weekend."