English rugby’s new golden boy Maro Itoje is taking his amazing season in his long stride after passing his first southern hemisphere test.
Just 21, lock Itoje has featured in hugely successful campaigns at club and international level, adding a swag of individual awards to his team honours.
He was part of Saracens domestic and European Champions Cup final winning teams, taking out man of the match in the latter.
The athletically gifted forward and Test rookie also picked up a player-of-the-game award in some of his Six Nations matches, as England completed a grand slam before clinching their three-Test series against Australia in two games.
“I’ve played in a number of fairly big games and I’ve had that experience of big pressure games, I’m now much more relaxed in the build-up to games,” Itoje said.
“I have more clarity of thought. I think that eases tensions going into these big occasions.”
Itoje wasn’t letting on when he last started in a losing team, but it’s believed he has been on the winning side in his last 25 combined club and Test starts.
“I’m aware of it, but I’m fortunate to be a part of two very talented teams,” Itoje said.
He is confident he can shut out all the potentially head-turning hype his swift rise has generated.
“That kind of stuff never really bothers or distracts me,” Itoje said.
“I think what I find important is what the people I care about say, my teammates, what the coaches, what my family say, so that’s what I hold myself accountable to.”
The Tests against Australia the past two weekends were his first in the southern hemisphere and against any of the big three nations in that part of the rugby world.
He hasn’t noticed a great deal of difference between what he’s used to in the northern hemisphere and what the Wallabies have thrown at England.
“Australia are a very good team, they probably play with the ball a little bit more, I think that’s probably a trait of Super Rugby,” Itoje said.