ENGLAND and Saracens rugby star Maro Itoje has had a phenomenal season leading his club team to victory in the European Champions Cup, his nation to success in the Six Nations Grand Slam – his whirlwind year was capped off by a Test series whitewash against Australia.
At 6ft 5ins and 18 stone, 21-year-old Itoje stands tall and brawn as the current European Player of the Year – the accolade which he was awarded in May.
Itoje’s meteoric ascent to rugby superstar is the result of years of hard work in the classroom, on the rugby field and in the gym – this discipline and dedication instilled upon Itoje, nicknamed ‘The Pearl’, as a young boy by his parents.
He was born in Camden, North London, after his parents Efe and Florence moved to Britain after marrying in Nigeria.
Jesse Coulson, director of sport and rugby at public school Harrow, taught Itoje and says he was nurtured to, first and foremost, get an education to set himself up for later life and to balance his studies with his profound sporting talent.
He told Platform: “He was fantastically well-disciplined – and that’s because of his upbringing. He understood that life is very tough out there and that he has to get the top grades which will give him choices, because life as a sportsman isn’t a guaranteed one and your shelf life can be run short.”
Itoje left Harrow with A-grades in economics, statistics and politics; he is now studying towards a politics degree at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
But his colossal physique has paved the way for his rugby career and Itoje – now a first-choice lock in the national side – was first included in England’s starting line-up in the Six Nations side that played Ireland in February.
He has captained Saracens in the Aviva Premiership and was named Rugby Players’ Association Young Player of the Year.
His studious, unwavering dream and drive to play for his country have led to where he is today and Itoje’s latest achievement was playing a significant part in Eddie Jones’ side’s historic 3-0 whitewash in Australia, months after helping England to their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 13 years.
“As soon as he crosses the whitewash, he’s in game mode,” Coulson said.
“You can see him encouraging others. He speaks well. Seasoned professionals will listen to him. And even though he’s young in years, and young in terms of his experience of caps, he lets his actions do the talking. And that’s where he gets his respect.
“He has all the attributes of being a fantastic leader – I would love to see him captaining England. But I don’t think that’s one of his focuses or one of his motivations.”
The sky, it seems, is the limit for Itoje – he is living proof for any youngster that hard work pays off.
By Jamie Barlow.