Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Itoje worth England call - Vunipola

Maro Itoje has the maturity and leadership skills to thrive in England's World Cup training squad, according to Saracens team-mate Billy Vunipola.

Saracens lock Itoje is expected to be named in Stuart Lancaster's extended World Cup squad on Wednesday, in a group that could swell to as many as 50 names.

The abrasive 20-year-old has imposed himself at Saracens in an impressive breakthrough campaign that has included regular Premiership action and a call-up for England Saxons.

Itoje is expected to join Exeter duo Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, Wasps' Elliot Daly and Bath's Sam Burgess as the uncapped contingent in England's wider World Cup ranks.

Number eight Vunipola hailed Itoje's late-season impact at Saracens, backing the fast-improving back-five forward for England recognition.

"Maro's a great player, he's got a lot of fight in him," Vunipola told Press Association Sport.

"He's very confident in his own ability and what he can bring to the team.

"He's one of those guys that I think will be a great leader one day, if not now.

"But anything could happen.

"I definitely think he's worth a shout - but that's just my opinion, I play with him and I know what he's like and what he's about."

While the likes of Itoje will edge into England's wider squad on potential as much as a fast-rising curve, boss Lancaster will also reserve the right to draft in stars like Tom Croft and Ben Morgan, both battling long-term injury.

Leicester flanker Croft could yet beat knee trouble in time to contest a World Cup berth, while Gloucester's Morgan is hopeful of being available for England's summer warm-up Tests in August.

Lancaster will take his wider World Cup squad to high-altitude camps in Denver as well as the more-familiar work at long-term base Pennyhill Park in Surrey.

Vunipola knows full well the summer will be filled with hard work, but believes politics student Itoje will be ready for the graft.

"Maro's family background helps him a lot I think," said Land Rover ambassador Vunipola.

"Our systems and academies help a lot in bringing young guys through.

"The set-ups give us confidence to go out there and play with a clear mind.

"Maro's one of those cases where Sarries have helped him a lot, they've given him an opportunity to play in the first team quite early on, and he's taken it with both hands.

"He knows the coaches and players have confidence in him and I'm sure that helps him out."

Loose forward Vunipola slipped off the England pace in a frustrating autumn, but was able to hit back in style during a resurgent RBS 6 Nations campaign.

The 22-year-old has previously been candid about taking his Test status for granted. The autumn represented a wake-up call and he believes the Six Nations recovery helped him organise his thoughts and plan for the future.

"I realise now it's about not forcing things, it's about trying to do my job within the team rather than trying to help myself," said Vunipola.

"If what happened in the autumn had to happen, then I'm lucky with the timing.

"I got very lucky to have chances in the Six Nations and I'm well aware of that.

"I was able to put my best foot forward and I feel like I put in some performances to be proud of: now I know that any chance I have to play, it's up to me to repay that.

"It could be an extremely exciting year, but I just feel as though I don't really want to tempt fate by talking about it all too much.

"Until it all comes through and is confirmed with England it doesn't feel quite right to say what I want or what I'm hoping for in it all.

"I think all I can do is just keep grafting away and working hard.

"I almost can't really believe at the moment that the World Cup is getting so close.

"I remember saying about a year ago that this season would fly by and I can't believe it's almost at an end.

"The main thing I keep focusing on is the fact that there's a lot of hard work ahead and I'm just trying to hone in on that."

:: Land Rover is recruiting all 96 Rugby World Cup 2015 official mascots as part of 'We Deal In Real', Land Rover's Rugby World Cup 2015 sponsorship campaign which will champion the people that are the heart and soul of the game by putting grassroots clubs on the global stage. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal


From Belfast Telegraph