Maro Itoje certainly looks like an imposing person out on the field. Off it, it is clear that the Saracens star is anything but.
Put in front of the cameras at Pennyhill Park, Maro Itoje told Talking Rugby Union about England’s preparations, his World Cup dreams and his selection hopes.
“Obviously, everyone wants to go to the World Cup,” Itoje said. “That goes without saying. But the big thing is about making sure that the team moves forward and making sure that the team goes in the right direction.”
“As players, we want to do right by the team, and all our actions, all our intentions are to make sure that we are moving in the right place.”
England play their first warm-up game on Sunday afternoon, taking on Six Nations champions Wales. Their preparation for this game has largely taken place in Treviso largely because of the climate in the area being similar to that of certain regions in Japan.
Mike Brown, who has recently been left out of the England squad again, claimed that he was losing several kilograms per training session, and whilst Itoje said that he got his hydration ‘on point’, he believes that the camp in Italy has prepared the side well for the conditions they could experience in Japan.
“They (England’s coaching staff) did their research and figured out that Treviso has a similar climate to Tokyo, so I think it has prepared us well for what we might face. It was very hot, very different to our normal conditions. It was a beautiful environment, Italy, so at least you were in a beautiful environment.”
Brown also told Talking Rugby Union last week about some of England’s off-field boding sessions. Having gone to an island near Venice, Brown talked about how the players and coaches used these bonding sessions to strengthen the team, something that Itoje echoed.
“We’re spending, well I don’t even know how long we’re spending together, but it’s been an awful lot of time together, Itoje said.
“Throughout that time, there will be times that you need to switch off, there’s times that you need to relax and if you have got a good bond, a good relationship with the man either side of you, you’re going to make the experience a lot more enjoyable.”
England’s 31-man World Cup squad will be announced on Monday afternoon but the day before, they will be taking on Wales at Twickenham in one of their traditional summer encounters. With the Welsh coming to the home of English rugby as Six Nations champions, it certainly does add a bit of bite to proceedings.
?? Rising Sons: Episode 5— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 6, 2019
Preparations for Japan continue as the squad bids farewell to Treviso and the focus turns to Sunday's #QuilterInternationals opener against Wales.#WearTheRose ?? @O2Sports pic.twitter.com/qKVq3pN4sG
However, there are fears that England may lose some of their first string players to injury in one of these warm-up games, something that Itoje says cannot be their minds: “I think it’s a test match against Wales. Has the intensity ever been off? You can’t go into games thinking about injury.
“You want to go headfirst and see where we can take it. See how much we can improve and see where we can go. We want to win all of our games. I’ve never put on an England shirt and thought it was okay to lose. That’s never in question. We are facing three very good teams and three teams that are going to test us. But it’s a test and a challenge that we want.”
It is at times difficult to remember that Itoje only made his England debut in 2016. As soon as he joined up with Eddie Jones’ squad, the Sarries man has been a mainstay. Collecting two Six Nations titles and a tour whitewash in Australia, the 24-year-old deservedly became a Lions tourist in 2017.
Playing in each test against the All Blacks in New Zealand, Itoje’s form has never wavered. At club level he has won it all too but there is one selection that the lock is yet to have; a place in an England World Cup squad. The England man said that to be selected would be the realisation of a lifetime’s dreams.
“This will be my first World Cup, if I get picked. It’s one of the few things in rugby that I haven’t experienced yet, so it’s massively exciting for me and I hope, come Monday, I’m in. I’m so excited for what potentially could happen in the next couple of months.
“To go out to Japan with England, that’ll be a dream. Playing in World Cup’s is something that I’ve wanted to do since I picked up a rugby ball. So, hopefully, it’s going to be a great experience for me.”