All Blacks may target special Itoje - Gatland

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Warren Gatland thinks New Zealand could target the "special" Maro Itoje but believes the versatile forward can thrive on the pressure of doing battle with the world champions for the British and Irish Lions.

Itoje has emerged as one of the biggest young talents in international rugby with some all-action displays for England since making his debut against Italy in February 2016.

The 22-year-old Saracens man has excelled for club and country, winning two Six Nations titles - including a Grand Slam - and playing a key role in Saracens' Premiership and European Champions Cup double last year.

Itoje, who also starred in a series whitewash of Australia, could lift both the Champions Cup and Premiership titles again this month and Gatland would not be surprised to see the All Blacks make special plans for the 2016 European Player of the Year. 

"He could be a player they may target, and I'll be interested to see how he responds to that," the Lions head coach told The Daily Telegraph.

"They might see him as potentially a key for the Lions and see if they can shut him down, or physically dominate him. He's going to have to learn from that.

"New Zealand sides sometimes go on with a different focus or a different approach. Everyone talks about their ability to play rugby, quality rugby, but when they need to they can mix it up as well. They can change your focus and turn that into a bit of a dogfight.

"I think we saw that the week after they lost to Ireland in Chicago. They went to Dublin and it wasn't about the performance. It was about the result.

"They'd had a kick up the backside and thought - whatever it takes we've got to win this match.