I think as an athlete he’s something a little bit special,” Gatland said.
Warren Gatland Reckons One Lions Player Will Be Especially Targeted By The All Blacks
Warren Gatland reckons Maro Itoje will be targeted by the All Blacks this summer.
The Lions’ head coach believes shutting down the best young forward in European rugby will be a tactical and psychological objective for the world champions in the three-Test series.
The England lock is the youngest player in Gatland’s squad at just 22 years of age, but is already regarded as one of the finest players in world rugby.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Gatland reckons the All Blacks may try and shut down the England lock.
“He could be a player they may target, and I’ll be interested to see how he responds to that. They might see him as potentially a key for the Lions and see if they can shut him down, or physically dominate him. He’s going to have to learn from that.
The Lions boss however rates Itoje very highly and reckons he will thrive under the conditions.
“He’s still learning. The more he plays the better he’s going to get. He’s got a massive engine on him and his work rate is just phenomenal. Hopefully we can get him to play a little bit smarter in terms of picking his moments, with that youthful enthusiasm of trying all the time. He’s just involved in everything. Just looking at him, he will respond to that challenge.
“He’s someone you couldn’t ignore. He’s been a big part of England’s success and also at Saracens. In the last few years he hasn’t been in many games where he’s been part of the losing team. As a youngster I don’t think you think too much. It [winning] becomes an expectation. If you look at the second-rows there’s going to be a huge amount of competition. He looks to me like someone who’s potentially a little bit special and I think he’s going to thrive in New Zealand.”