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Towering England star Itoje opts for discreet approach at university

Published 19/10/2016

England and Saracens lock Maro Itoje is currently studying for a politics degree
England and Saracens lock Maro Itoje is currently studying for a politics degree

Maro Itoje may be one of English rugby's most instantly recognisable figures, but he is still able to pass "incognito" among classmates at university.

Itoje is studying politics and development and politics in Africa in the final year of a politics degree at SOAS University in central London, spending Tuesdays and Fridays in lessons.

Despite being an ever-present for double-winning Saracens last season and a key figure in England's Grand Slam march and series whitewash in Australia this year, the 6ft 5in, dreadlocked 21-year-old is able to attend lectures unnoticed.

"I don't think a lot of my classmates know who I am," said Itoje, who has been announced as the latest Vitality ambassador.

"My university experience is a little bit different to the standard student's. I can be fairly discreet because only some lecturers and tutors know who I am.

"It makes life a little bit easier. I don't mind it - it's quite nice to go incognito for a while.

"I'm in my final year now, I did my first two years full-time, but I had to split my last year over two. I'm in the home straight.

"It helps me take my mind off rugby - politics and development is a little bit different to Premiership rugby.

"It gives you a chance to lead a balanced life. It helps you keep the mind ticking over on other things, so it's helpful".

Itoje looks set to start at openside when England face South Africa in the first of four internationals staged at Twickenham this autumn, filling the void left by a succession of injuries in the position.

Head coach Eddie Jones has described the Springboks as "bullies" ahead of their visit on November 12 and Itoje has been given his own insight into their psyche due to the presence at Saracens of players such as Schalk Burger, Schalk Brits and Neil de Kock.

"South Africa are a very proud rugby nation and you notice that when you spend time with the South Africans in our squad," Itoje said.

"They're very proud and passionate about their rugby and they care a lot. They're very physical as well and are known for their physicality."

Itoje was talking at Twickenham, which is being prepared to host its first NFL match when the Los Angeles Rams face the New York Giants on Sunday, and the second row has no desire to swap rugby for gridiron.

"I spent some time in America with an NFL player called Cassius Marsh. He's a linebacker for Seattle," he said.

"He's a good guy, a friend of one of my friends, but rugby is my passion and I have no desire to swap.

"He didn't try to recruit me, but he thought rugby was cool. He was like, 'You guys don't use pads man?'

"They are obviously two different sports. The kind of tackles that they do, you wouldn't be able to do in rugby - you'd probably get a straight red in rugby."

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