Why Maro Itoje Has The Potential To Be The Greatest Lock England Has Ever Seen
A rugby legend in the making?
Before all the pitchforks are sharpened and the knives are brandished, please remember that this is only my not-so-humble opinion. The key word is lock- I don’t think he’ll be able to thrive as much playing as a flanker for England, but he can be the greatest if developed as a number 4.
1) His skill-set is unrivalled in the second row. World class is a phrase thrown around all too often, but Maro Itoje fits that bill perfectly- who else still remembers the look on Sam Whitelock’s face after that rip during the Lions series? He is a lineout specialist who has the work-rate of a six and the ball-fetching abilities of a seven. He managed the joint highest number of turnovers in this year’s 6 nations (7), whilst also claiming a team high of 16 line-outs won over England’s five match campaign, beaten in the overall standings by only Justin Tipuric and Devin Toner. Not forgetting his performances in the 2014 U20’s Six Nations, in which he scored a try in all of his team’s games. Some may say statistics are only an indicator of a player’s ability, but Itoje has backed these numbers up with consistent performances match after match.
2) He is a natural leader for Saracens and England. Despite the fact that we not seen anything like the Johnson-Mary McAleese incident in 2003, Itoje has shown that he has the capability to be a leader in a World Cup winning England side- a sentiment echoed by Eddie Jones. His leadership credentials speak for themselves: He captained England U20’s to an IRB World Championship in 2014, whilst playing a pivotal role for England in their Grand Slam win in 2016. If you were in any doubt of the impact Itoje has for his team, I refer you to a tweet by Brian Moore on 14th May 2016, the date Saracens won their first Champions Cup:
“Great stat – Maro Itoje hasn’t lost a game he has started in this  season – 20 from 20 and today’s MOTM.”
Some will call it gamesmanship, some will call it passion, but no one can deny that Itoje raises the team’s intensity levels by screaming and clapping when they win a penalty.
3) He has beaten the very best. Sports teams are only as good as the teams they beat. Just 18 caps into his international career (this includes three Test matches for the British and Irish Lions), Itoje has claimed wins over New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Wales, France, and Scotland- seven of the top ten teams in the World Rugby Ranking (as of 11th September 2017). His other accolades include completing a ‘double’ with Saracens in the 2015/2016 season (Sarries also successfully defended the aforementioned European Cup a year later), a drawn Lions Series against New Zealand, and of course, back-to-back Six Nations Championships with England- one of which was a Grand Slam. All of this, with just 15 caps for his country.
Of course, we must remember that Itoje is still ONLY 22 years old – he still has to play at the very highest level for many years before becoming a sporting legend. However, if he continues to perform at the level that he has been doing (I reckon Alun-Wyn Jones still sings ‘Ohhh, Maro Itoje’ when he’s home alone), he has every chance of captaining England to World Cup glory, and thus becoming the greatest lock England has ever seen.
Sorry Martin Johnson.
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