From villain to hero, penalty liability to match winner, serial offender to saviour.
Maro Itoje’s transformation from Cardiff fall guy to Twickenham super hero was hailed as “sensational” by Eddie Jones.
A reputation harmed by the gift of five penalties to Wales a fortnight ago was restored to its full splendour in south west London on Saturday.
In front of watching Lions coach Warren Gatland, Itoje restated his case not only to be considered the best in the land, but perhaps all the world.
“I thought Maro was incredible,” Jones said. “The amount of criticism he’s received.. he took it on the chin, got on with it, fixed his game and was absolutely sensational.
“That’s a player of great stature. A real great testament to his character, to his desire to be a good team mate.”
Itoje capped a near-faultless display with the winning try three minutes from time. It was his first score for a year and a half and turned a dead-end campaign into a springboard to genuine World Cup hope.
The Saracens lock allowed himself a smile as TMO Joy Neville overturned ref Andrew Brace’s initial decision not to award the try. But nothing more.
“There’s a perception about my game and how I play which I’m working hard to change,” he said. “This is only one game. I’ll have to do that on a consistent level.”
Itoje acknowledged that conceding five penalties in a game creates an impression of him as a serial offender which affects how referees see him.
“It is about making better decisions, understanding and reading referees better,” said the 26-year-old. “Obviously I don’t want to lose any of the good stuff that I do because I know what I can bring to a team and how I can influence a game.
“I want to still be as confrontational as I can. My mentality makes me the player I am. If I lose my bite and my edge you might as well play somebody else because that is the stuff that makes me me.
“But it’s about not trying to do it all and trusting the system to deal with it. Choose my moments, have an understanding of the context of the game. I have to thread that needle more effectively.”
Not since the 2019 World Cup semi-final win against New Zealand had England touched the heights they did against the previously unbeaten French.
They conceded the first try on 65 seconds and trailed 13-17 at half-time but, as dazzling as France were, Jones saw no cause for concern.
His selection strategy was built around the visitors fading in the final quarter and England profiting from the very period in which they gave it all away in Wales.
As with Itoje, it was about confronting head on the ghost of their recent past. As with Super Maro it worked a treat.
ENGLAND – Tries: Watson, Itoje. Cons: Farrell 2. Pens: Farrell 3.
FRANCE – Tries: Dupont, Penaud. Cons: Jalibert 2. Pens: Jalibert 2.