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first_imgItoje, 22, secured the No 4 jersey ahead of vastly experienced Alun Wyn Jones for the New Zealand Maori match on Saturday, in a side Warren Gatland has always said would resemble what trots out against for the first tests against the All Blacks at Eden Park, on June 24.But Gatland has always allowed himself wriggle room, saying he’s not showing his full hand, though the side is close to his test line-up.So Itoje is not picturing himself as a test No 4.”In my short career, I’ve learned not to try and read the coach’s mind, cause it’s done me a couple of times,” he said.”I’m just focusing on the weekend, I’m going to put my best foot forward, and play well, and hopefully the team goes well as well, it put us in a good position.”Nor did he see that starting against the Maori in what is promising to be a game that bubbles and bolls like a Rotorua hot pool was all that different to coming off the bench.Again, he based that on his experience.”Last season I played a couple of games off the bench and almost every one I came on within five minutes of the game. That’s taught me that when you’re on the bench prepare as though you’re starting, there’s no difference in preparation,” he said.”It takes a 23 to win a test match, to win a game of rugby, it’s very rarely the starting 15 finish the match entirely so subs always come on.”No man’s an island, and a tree doesn’t make a forest. The focus is always on the team, we’re not here just to get individual honours we’re here to achieve something as a collective. To achieve something as a collective you have to be a team man.”Itoje, the youngest player in the 41-man squad, is a relaxed and smiling character, who cracks jokes in his interviews.So it comes as a surprise when he pinpoints learning to control anxiety as a reason for his growing stature at international level. On tour he’s looked anything but anxious, dancing with joy at turnovers and geeing up the Lions forwards.”When I first started playing senior rugby, I was very anxious, very nervous before games. Now I’m much more controlled, much more calm and relaxed. I have it more balanced in terms of that.”He’s got used to big games, to being around big-game players, he said.”Being in those environments, and playing well at times, and getting the results – sometimes not getting the results – it all helps shape your character.”Itoje will lock with England and Saracens second row team-mate George Kruis.- who is also his room-mate.Who would have thought the British and Irish Lions would one day have a No 4 of Nigerian descent and a No 5 with German roots? Both were born in England, Itoje of Nigerian parents, while Kruis has a German grandfather.Itoje came on in Christchurch to help the Lions pack grind down the Crusaders. No doubt the intention is to grind down the Maori and blunt their flair on SaturdayDo that and the Lions who play on Saturday have a much better chance of being the ones who claim a treasured test jersey a week later.Not that Itoje is looking that far ahead. Photo: Getty Images (Maro Itoje isn’t getting his hopes up of a test jersey after being picked to play NZ Maori).last_img

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