Maro Itoje admits England were driven on by the fear of being humbled at Twickenham when staging their fightback in a 35-15 victory over Japan.
The shadow of rugby’s greatest upset loomed large on Saturday as the Brave Blossoms built a 15-10 half-time lead that would have been larger still had the inspirational Michael Leitch been able to score his second try.
England took control through Mark Wilson’s touch down 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 outcome in the third autumn Quilter International.
“I definitely didn’t want that to happen here,” said Itoje, recalling the Springboks’ 34-32 defeat which is being made into a film called 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 find yourself getting 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 in only the second Test between the nations.
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 controversially 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 told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme.
“That’s what you want from your best players. When you’re down and you’re 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.”
George Ford, leading the team on his 50th cap, admitted England’s attitude was wrong in a dismal first half and Itoje will be part of the inquest that examines why Japan were allowed to take control after Danny Care darted over in the third minute.
“We have to make sure we have that top attitude every single time we pull on an England shirt,” Itoje said.
“Our attitude wasn’t. It wasn’t quite right. We were off as a collective and we have to have a think why that was the case. Maybe our early try seduced us a little bit.
“Sometimes it’s better when you have to work a little bit harder and maybe not score straight away.
“We started better than that against South Africa and New Zealand. We need make sure against Australia we don’t start like that.”