Maro Itoje: ‘It feels like we could have done more’

Maro Itoje played the full 80 minutes against the All Blacks on Saturday evening
©INPHO/Billy Stickland

“Drawing in international rugby is always a bit weird,” Maro Itoje said.

“You always get a bit of a mixed feeling about it. We are happy with the comeback, but it feels like we could have done more.”

Draws always leave you with a feeling of unease. At the end of 80 minutes, you’ve seen two teams do battle and at the end, nothing could separate them. 

Saturday’s clash between England and New Zealand offered just that, Itoje and his teammates returning from 19 points down to draw with the All Blacks.

Will Stuart grabbed a brace and Freddie Steward scored a try in the final 10 minutes of the game to rescue a result after having been down and out for much of the Test.

When the game restarted after Stuart’s second try was converted by Marcus Smith, the fly-half kicked the ball dead and leaving some of his teammates with their heads in their hands.

“To be honest, it kind of feels like an opportunity missed,” Itoje said. “Early in the week, Ben Youngs said sometimes you play the All Blacks and you get to the end of the game and you say ‘how did that happen? How did we allow that to happen?’ and it felt like one of those games today.

“Fair play to them, they are a good side, they put us under a lot of pressure in the first half. We just didn’t get out of the blocks how we wanted to, we left it until the second half where all the pressure was on us to finally be free and finally play this type of rugby that we want to play.

“Rugby is a game that doesn’t always go your way. What we did show was an incredible amount of resilience. 

“A lot of teams would have given up or faded away after the first half they delivered, and they did perform well in the first half. But we stuck in it and fought for the final result.”

Playing the full 80 minutes against the All Blacks, it was not the first time that Itoje had experienced a draw with the All Blacks. He did so in 2017 while on tour with the British and Irish Lions, the final Test between the two ended honour even, the series doing so also.

After such an astonishing finish to this Test, it certainly leaves you looking for more from England. You got to see Marcus Smith’s best moments in an England shirt to date, as well as some real grit and determination, making Itoje excited for the final game of the autumn against South Africa in London.

“No, especially off the back of this week,” Itoje said. “Playing South Africa at Twickenham – I’m really looking forward to it. I only wish the game is a little bit sooner because we left a lot out there.

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“Whilst the second half was a bit more how we wanted to play, next week is an opportunity to hopefully play how we want to play for the full 80 minutes.”

Playing South Africa next Saturday will certainly be a challenge. Jacques Nienaber’s team have had a largely indifferent autumn campaign to date, losing to Ireland and France, but picking up a comprehensive 63-21 win over Italy at the weekend.

Whenever the Springboks and England come up against one another, it will incur memories of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final.

South Africa’s forward dominance was the deciding factor that day, the Boks scrum contributing significantly to the southern hemisphere team winning a third Rugby World Cup.

Playing one another for the first time since Japan a year ago, England narrowly beat out the world champions thanks to a 27-26 scoreline and the battle up front was where the game was won and lost.

“It’s a great challenge,” Itoje said. “South Africa haven’t changed the way they play since, I don’t know, their first game of international rugby. Strong set-piece, strong kicking game, strong defence.

“So, it’s about what we do and that’s the exciting thing about the week to come. I think it will be a great game and I’m looking forward to it.”