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Maro Itoje will continue to strive to become a better player

The 23=year=old believes he has matured and improved as a player.

Maro Itoje returns to the setting of his Test debut as a superstar of English rugby, yet insists he will never feel comfortable in the international arena.

Two years ago Itoje stepped off the bench in a 40-9 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico and 16 games later – including three British and Irish Lions caps – he has earned world-class status.

As an 11-year-old the Saracens forward would watch the NatWest 6 Nations from his boarding house at Harrow, where the seed to become a professional rugby player was first planted in his mind.

England open their title defence at the same venue on Sunday, providing Itoje with a good yardstick to measure his progress.

“I’ve matured since then. This is my third Six Nations and that was my first cap. I’ve definitely matured as a player and a person,” Itoje said.

“I probably understand the game better. I like to think I’ve improved as a player as well. Then I was 21, now I’m 23.

Maro Itoje is determined to keep making improvements

“With age comes experience. You mature and you just no more about life as time goes on.

“Making my debut was a surreal moment. Growing up you watch England play and you admire those players and aspire to get to where those players are.

“From the second I walked on that pitch I then became an England player, something I’d been working towards for quite a while.

“It was a surreal moment for me, a great day for myself and my family to enjoy. I remember how happy my team-mates were, guys who didn’t necessarily know me that well, and spending time with them after the game.

“I remember my dad came to that game and seeing how happy he was. He was probably even more happy than me.

England v Samoa – Autumn International – Twickenham Stadium

“Now it is a bit different to that. Back then I was still fairly new to rugby.

“Since I started playing international rugby I feel as if I’ve done well and it’s the right environment for me.

“I wouldn’t say comfortable is the right word. Comfortable sounds as if you’re taking it easy, taking your foot off the gas, not working as hard as you should be.”

England are aiming to secure an unprecedented hat-trick of outright titles and have pledged to attack the tournament as “hunters” rather than look to defend their crown.

“The hunter theme is a fantastic analogy to use,” Itoje said.

“We want to be the aggressors, we want to take the game by the scruff the neck, we don’t want to be submissive in anything. That’s a great approach.”

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