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Itoje to make most of opportunity

Published 31/05/2015

Saracens forward Maro Itoje hopes to make a mark during England's World Cup preparations this summer
Saracens forward Maro Itoje hopes to make a mark during England's World Cup preparations this summer

Saracens star Maro Itoje is determined to make the most of his World Cup opportunity after what he admits has been a "surreal" 12 months.

Itoje does not turn 21 until October, but he already has Premiership and Junior World Cup winner's medals in his collection, with the latest prize being secured through Saracens' 28-16 victory over Bath at Twickenham that saw them crowned English champions for a second time.

Three weeks from now he will report for England training duty and a summer of intense World Cup preparation before England head coach Stuart Lancaster announces the final 31-man squad to chase global glory on home soil later this year.

"The motivation is to play for England," said Itoje, whose ability as a lock and blindside flanker could prove a priceless commodity when Lancaster considers his selection options.

"That is definitely a goal, and that will be a driving force behind the way I train and the way I conduct myself.

"I am really chuffed to be in the squad, and I just want to make the most of my opportunity.

"You don't get these kind of opportunities every day, so I want to go in and just try to make the most of it."

Itoje helped Saracens erase memories of last season when they reached the European Cup and Premiership finals, but lost both, as Bath were sunk by an imperious first-half display when Owen Farrell, Jamie George and Chris Wyles scored tries to secure an unassailable 25-3 interval lead.

Saracens also made Premiership history as they became the first club since play-offs were introduced 12 years ago to finish outside the top two after English rugby's 22-game regular league season and still lift the title.

"It was amazing, definitely one of the highlights of my career so far," Itoje added.

"We were in a strong position in the first-half. Our game-plan was executed very well by the boys. We put some pressure on them and we made try-scoring opportunities through our defence.

"We tried to do the same thing in the second-half, but Bath are a good team. They have talented individuals in the likes of George Ford, Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph.

"And when you have those kind of players in your team you are going to make breaks, you are going to do some damage, and they definitely did some damage in the second-half, but I am happy that we were able to see it through.

"We have always had the belief. There were setbacks along the way, but we always believed in our ability.

"The last 12 months have been surreal. Going from the Junior World Cup to this has just been fantastic. It has probably been the best year of my life so far."

Such is Itoje's versatility that Saracens are able to switch his positions during a game, and he said: "I enjoy playing in both.

"I think it depends on how the coach wants to have the make-up of the forwards, depending on how they see forward play. Maybe some coaches see me as a second-row, and some coaches as a six.

"I am comfortable playing in both positions. I have no real preference."

After losing last year's Premiership final in the dying seconds of extra-time against Northampton, Saracens' determination to avoid anything approaching a repeat was showcased through a first-half performance that bristled with intent and left a normally free-scoring Bath team in freefall.

"After the pain and hurt of last season, it's been a heck of a journey," Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said.

"But to perform like we did in the first-half was exceptional. Last year was always at the back of our mind, but we were very clear that we were owed nothing. We had to earn it and we had to scrap our way into the semi-finals.

"It has been great to be in four (Premiership) finals in six years, and now great that we have won two of them."

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