“YOU HAVE TO BE COM­FORT­ABLE WITHIN YOUR SKIN”

He has ex­ploded into Test rugby, but young Maro Itoje is just as happy talk­ing pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and emo­tional well­be­ing

Rugby World - - N EW Z E A L A N D - WORDS ALAN DY­MOCK // MAIN PIC­TURE STEPHEN McCARTHY/GETTY IM­AGES

NEW ZEALAND is a hard place to come and play rugby. When it rains, it rains end­less show­ers of iced spears. When the peo­ple want to wel­come you, they do so with fire in their eyes and a

ta­iaha weapon in their hands. When they play rugby, they do so with a fierce, molten con­fi­dence.

In front of all that stands a beam­ing 22-year-old with a cud­dly toy un­der one arm.

Maro Itoje has en­joyed a rapid rise to the sum­mit of the game. Since he led Eng­land U20 to a Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship ti­tle at Eden Park in 2014, he has thun­dered ever up­wards. He could not help but push through at Sara­cens, form­ing a pow­er­ful sec­ond-row part­ner­ship with Ge­orge

Kruis. The pair would soon form the be­drock lock pair­ing na­tion­ally too, af­ter Itoje made his de­but away to Italy in the 2016 Six Na­tions as a sub­sti­tute for James Haskell.

It would take him 11 more

Tests be­fore he lost a game, on his 12th in­ter­na­tional out­ing, in Dublin. He also now has two Cham­pi­ons Cup win­ner’s medals in his cabi­net.

If you have seen Itoje through­out this pe­riod you will have seen one

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