Itoje unfazed by hosts’ lineout
Tourists confident of dealing with Retallick and Whitelock
Maro Itoje described plotting the downfall of New Zealand’s much-vaunted lineout as “business as usual”.
The Saracens lock will call the British & Irish Lions’ lineout in tomorrow’s second All Blacks Test in Wellington. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock form the world’s best second row pairing – but Itoje insisted he can mastermind a way to trump one of New Zealand’s many weapons.
Itoje, 22, will partner Alun Wyn Jones in the Lions’ engine room at Westpac Stadium, where the tourists must win to keep the series alive.
“Calling the lineouts changes my role obviously,” Itoje said. “But I’ve called lineouts in the past, so it’s not something that’s new.
“In a lot of the games I’ve been calling the lineouts on this tour, so it’s not something that’s been sprung upon me. I’ve been preparing for moments like this.
“So obviously there’s a bit more preparation and planning. But it’s business as usual from here.”
Asked to assess the size of task in taking on Retallick and Whitelock, Itoje said: “We acknowledge they are two good operators, very talented guys with a good work ethic. But the challenge on us is to surpass that.
“We’ve got a good challenge in front of us: it’s one we’ve prepared well for this week, and one we’ll rise to at the weekend. We haven’t come here to be second-best, we haven’t come here to be second-fiddle. We’re going out on Saturday to do a job, and to get the result we want.”
Itoje has starred across England’s record-equalling 18-game winning streak and Saracens’ back-to-back Champions Cup triumphs.
The second row prodigy faces a step up in opposition in bidding to subdue Retallick and Whitelock, the game’s premier locking duo.
But the ever-composed Saracen insisted he will be ready for whatever the All Blacks produce – and tipped Warren Gatland’s Lions to improve from their first Test showing.
“Last week was the first time I’d played the All Blacks, and it’s obvious they are a talented team with good players,” said Itoje, who came off the bench in the first Test at Eden Park.
“The intensity was at a high level, but as always it’s about us making sure we’re right, and doing what we can to be fully prepared. “Because I don’t think we played to our potential last week. I think we let things slip through our hands, and we’ll try our best this week to make sure that doesn’t happen again. “We need to improve in the contact, the physicality, we’ve got to switch on and be sharp for the whole game.”
Maro Itoje is ready to take on the All Blacks.