Maro Itoje full of confidence as England prepare for crunch New Zealand clash
Maro Itoje senses that England are poised to stun New Zealand in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final by declaring: “We’re going to get them”.
The All Blacks are odds-on favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for a third successive time but at International Stadium Yokohama they face a clash between the sport’s two highest-ranked teams.
England are bullish over their chances knowing that coach Eddie Jones masterminded five wins over New Zealand when Australia coach, while 10 of the starting XV have tasted victory against the world champions.
For six of them that triumph was savoured on the Lions tour two years ago in the shape of a 24-21 win in Wellington – a match in which Itoje produced one of his most stellar performances.
“The whole touring experience of 2017 is a reference,” the Saracens second row said.
“I learned a lot about New Zealand, their culture, how they play the game, how good and clinical they are and how to get them. This weekend feels like the time we’re going to get them.
“Quite honestly, even if I hadn’t experienced beating them, I’d still have that same confidence.
“My confidence doesn’t derive from the 2017 Lions tour. Different team and different circumstances. Their team has changed a lot too.
“My confidence derives from the personnel we have, the confidence we have, the other players we have and what we are capable of.
“I have never ever gone into a game thinking that team is going to beat me. The way I see New Zealand, I respect what they have done but I don’t see them as a team that is going to beat us.
“They are a very good team and have the capacity to do some very dangerous things, but I still believe that if we play our best rugby, we will win.”
If England are to progress to the final they must overcome the sport’s greatest challenge, prompting Itoje to recall a line from 16-time WWE world champion Ric Flair.
“As Ric Flair said – ‘to be the man you’ve got to beat the man’,” Itoje said.
“They are two-time World Cup winners and have done it in a row, and they have obviously been the dominant team over the last eight years.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. That is our challenge, that is what is in front of us.”
Jones has transformed England into genuine World Cup contenders but the team have endured their fair share of hardship after experiencing a six-match losing run that ended in the final instalment of a three-Test series against South Africa.
“The moment that stands out is that period that we lost a few on the bounce throughout the back end of the 2018 Six Nations and going into the first two games of that South Africa tour,” Itoje said.
“That was a tough time for us but those experiences make the resolve of the team stronger. Ironically, as a result of that, we have become tighter as a group.
“We have seen each other when we have been vulnerable and that often brings teams closer.
“When you are in those situations, you can completely dismantle, or draw closer to each other.
“And I believe through those experiences we have drawn closer to one an another and it has made us much tighter and much more robust.”