England star aims to stay on the edge with referees
SPOTLIGHT: Maro Itoje believes he can still “thread the needle” that will see him retain his aggressive style of play while staying on the right side of referees after his match-winning try against France.
The Saracens lock powered over four minutes from time in Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham as England came from behind to win 23-20 and so deny France a Grand Slam.
It was a particularly enjoyable moment for Itoje, who was threatening to become a poster boy for England’s persistent problems of indiscipline, having conceded five penalties in a 24-40 loss to Wales last time out that ended the reigning champions’ hopes of a successful title defence.
By contrast, he infringed just once against France and, with England coach Eddie Jones suggesting the British and Irish Lions lock was being targeted by referees, Itoje accepted he had to alter officials’ view of him.
“There’s been a bit of perception that has come about with my game and how I play the game. I am just working hard to try and change that perception,” Itoje said.
“If you give away five penalties then referees will hear the outside noise that says Maro Itoje gives away a lot of penalties. Everything has an influence.”
The 26-year-old, who has been tipped as a possible Lions captain for this year’s series against world champions South Africa, added: “I don’t want to lose any of the good stuff that I do because I know what I can bring to a team and how I can influence a game.
“But, at the same time, I want to change that perception. It’s just about making better decisions. I need to understand and read referees better.
“Obviously I never want to lose my bite, I never want to lose my edge. I believe my mentality makes me the player I am. I want to still be as confrontational as I can.
“At the same time, I have to thread that needle more effectively. I didn’t give away as much against France, so that’s a step in the right direction.”
Itoje’s try was just his third in 47 Tests for England and it leaves Jones’ men with two wins from four matches this Six Nations ahead of their tournament finale away to Ireland on March 20.
“My tries aren’t really too pretty,” said Itoje.
“It was a pick and go and I don’t think it was anything to scream and shout about, but we’re happy with it nonetheless.”
As for England’s performance as a whole, Itoje said: “That’s definitely not gold standard, but I do believe we were better and it was a bit more of what we want to be as a team.”