Maro Itoje is expected to recover from a fractured jaw in time for the start of England’s Six Nations championship defence after Saracens confirmed they are targeting a January return for the influential forward.
The 23-year-old suffered two separate fractures to his jaw in a suspected collision with his England teammate Mike Brown during Saracens’ Premiership defeat by Harlequins earlier this month, with initial fears that he would be sidelined for up to three months and miss the majority of the Six Nations campaign.
But after undergoing surgery to have two plates inserted into his jaw, Itoje looks likely to make a quicker recovery than expected and could even be fit for England’s opening encounter with Italy on Sunday 4 February.
Saracens expect to have the second-row back in the middle of January, meaning that he could potentially play in the European Champions Cup matches against Ospreys and Northampton Saints before linking up with the England squad.
“Maro is probably three or four weeks away,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall. “He went to see the specialist who said a maximum of six weeks and he’s already done a week and a half.”
The news will be a huge boost for England head coach Eddie Jones, who utilised Itoje’s versatility in 2016 by deploying him at times as a blindside flanker to accommodate the likes of Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and George Kruis.
England will attempt to claim a record third Six Nations next year, a feat that has never been achieved outright in the history of the tournament, and Itoje has emerged as a crucial cog in Jones’ plan to transform the national team into Rugby World Cup winners, having been nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award.