Not having broccoli won’t slow me down insists Saracens’ Maro Itoje ahead of Premiership rugby final
- Saracens’ Maro Itoje says he no longer has to resort to pre-match rituals
- Itoje revealed he is now able to control his emotions much more effectively
- The 24-year-old insists he is in good shape ahead of Premiership rugby final
Maro Itoje has learned how to manage his anxiety before the biggest occasions, but not by resorting to pre-match rituals.
The wrong choice of vegetables for lunch won’t unsettle the Saracens and England forward on Saturday.
Itoje is not inclined to put his faith in a lucky T-shirt, the comforting routine of a familiar meal or the sort of preparatory quirks before kick-off which some players swear by.
Saracens’ Maro Itoje has revealed that he no longer has to resort to pre-match rituals
He doesn’t have to put his socks on in a particular order or leave the tunnel last or hop over the touchline on to the pitch.
He prefers a logical, scientific approach. ‘I actively try and stay clear of superstitions,’ said Itoje, prior to Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership Final against Exeter at Twickenham.
‘If for any reason my circumstances changed or I didn’t have access to a certain food, I wouldn’t want that to mess with my head, so I came to ridiculous conclusions.
‘Just because I don’t have broccoli doesn’t mean I’m not going to run as fast! I have a warm-up routine, but I don’t think that’s necessarily superstitious.’
Despite the rapid career advance that he has enjoyed — the acclaim for his exploits with club and country and the Lions, all the major matches and personal prizes — Itoje is still adjusting to the high-stakes environment he operates in.
Itoje admits he still gets anxious but he is now able to control his emotions a lot better
‘There are always nerves,’ he said. ‘I get a little bit anxious, but I control my emotions a lot better now than I did when I first started playing top-flight rugby. I’m normally relatively relaxed but serious and ready to go.’
On Saturday he has twin targets. He wants to help Saracens clinch a domestic and European double, then he wants to watch Liverpool win the Champions League final. That might just make up for seeing the football team he supports being taken apart in midweek.
Speaking before the Europa League final which Chelsea won 4-1, Itoje said: ‘I’m an Arsenal fan, so for the first time in my life I’m supporting Liverpool. I definitely don’t want Tottenham to win the Champions League before Arsenal do! Fingers crossed with that one.’
As someone with sporting interests which extend beyond his own game, Itoje has also followed the career of another successful British-Nigerian, Anthony Joshua. But he won’t be staying up until 4am on Sunday morning to watch the heavyweight’s fight against Andy Ruiz.
Itoje described himself as ‘good and ready to go’ ahead of the Premiership rugby final
‘I think I’ll be sleeping,’ he said — which is understandable, given the nature of the heavyweight contest he will be part of this afternoon.
Having had time out with injuries this season, Itoje described himself as feeling ‘good and ready to go’, which doesn’t bode well for Exeter.
He was imperious as Saracens put Gloucester to the sword last weekend and that performance highlighted how he continues to expand his repertoire.
Elaborate dummies have become an asset, especially during the recent phase of lining up in the back row at blindside.
Asked if there was a hidden showman within him, Itoje said: ‘Haha, I wish! I played centre when I was 13, which was a lot of fun, but my backs days are well and truly over.’