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Maro Itoje vows his best is still to come after England and Saracens successes

Maro Itoje says he plans "to become better at everything" after a stellar season that has elevated him to world-class status at the age of 21.

The Saracens star arrived home from Lyon on Sunday as a European Champions Cup winner and newly-acclaimed European Player of the Year.

The latest additions to a burgeoning career portfolio came just eight weeks after he played a major role in guiding England to the RBS 6 Nations title and a first Grand Slam since 2003.

And there could still be more ahead, as Saracens are two wins away from not only retaining the Aviva Premiership title, but also becoming the first English club since Wasps in 2004 to land a domestic and European double.

"I feel I am nowhere near where I think I can be. I think there is a lot to come," said Itoje, whose man-of-the-match display helped floor Champions Cup final opponents Racing 92 in Lyon.

"I am still young, and there are still a hell of a lot of things I need to work on. I need to have that mindset and mentality if I want to keep improving.

"The plan is to become better at everything. No aspect of my game is perfect. There are a lot of things I know I need to work on with the coaches. Hopefully, if I do that, I will continue to push the boundaries."

Itoje's latest stunning performance in the high-octane environment of a showpiece game did little to dispel an increasingly-held view that he is now among world rugby's finest players.

He was at the forefront as Saracens saw off Racing 21-9 after fly-half Owen Farrell kicked seven penalties from seven attempts to emphatically compensate for their European Cup final defeat against Toulon in Cardiff two years ago.

"Everyone is happy. It's a big relief to get this (European title)," Itoje added.

"If you look at the age of our squad, we are still relatively young and we have some big players from numbers one to 23.

"The plan was to put them (Racing) under pressure and make them make mistakes and force them to do things they didn't want to do. I think we succeeded in that.

"Obviously, they are a fantastic team. No team you play in the final is going to be easy, and it certainly wasn't easy.

"We want to go out and do well in every competition - it's non-negotiable. Now that this (European campaign) is finished, on Monday or Tuesday we will put it to bed and start preparing for the next game."

Itoje, meanwhile, also paid tribute to match-winner Farrell and Saracens rugby director Mark McCall after the club enjoyed their greatest moment.

"Owen is a phenomenal player, and when it comes to big occasions that is when he steps up even more," Itoje said.

"He's a big-game player, he steps up to the mark, and you know if he's on your team he will not disappoint you and he will fight every inch to get the success that we wanted. He is a big part of our team."

Assessing the role of McCall, Itoje said: "He is very important for the club. He sets the tone, he sets the agenda and the standards of the club.

"He works as hard as anybody I know, and he is the one who's always doing a lot of preparation. He conveys confidence to the rest of the squad and the coaches, and it transfers to us going on the pitch."

For his part, McCall will now switch focus to the Premiership, with play-off opponents Leicester looming at Allianz Park next Saturday. If Saracens topple the Tigers, they will meet Exeter or Wasps at Twickenham on May 28, when another trophy will be on offer.

"I think we have invested a lot in this particular Aviva Premiership," McCall said. "We've dug in the whole season, and I would hate to think we would just give up on it now.

"Knowing the players the way I know the players, they will enjoy this (Champions Cup success) - and they deserve to - but when Tuesday comes they will be ready to go back to work and prepare properly.

"I am not going to say we're going to win everything, but I do think this team will improve. We've improved from two years ago, and that is going to be the challenge for us."


From Belfast Telegraph