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Itoje: 'Lover, not a fighter'

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'I'm a lover, not a fighter... I'll stick to rugby' - Itoje won't ever follow Haskell into the cage

It was against Ireland at the start of this year’s Guinness Six Nations that Jamie George and Maro Itoje last started together for England, but the Saracens pair are now again ready to face Joe Schmidt’s Irish with the aim of despatching them in a similar style.

“This is our last game at Twickenham for a little while now so we are very excited to go out there and play ball again. It’s a great opportunity for the squad to show our development, show the direction we’re moving,” Itoje told RugbyPass in the build-up to Saturday’s match, the third game of England’s four-match World Cup warm-up programme. 

Having both toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in 2017, Itoje and George will be familiar with several of the faces in the Ireland line-up.

Speaking about his second row opponents, Itoje said: “I’m actually very familiar with both of those players. Iain Henderson – I’ve played with against him a number of times, played with him on tour. Kleyn – the monster lock, played against him in this recent European Champions Cup, so I’m quite familiar with both of them and both their locks on the bench as well.”

George added: “Whenever you play against Ireland you know you will be coming up against a very well-drilled and confident Irish pack. Their front row is pretty talismanic in their team so it will be a good challenge for us. 

“Obviously you know them personally, but we’re used to playing against people that we know nowadays. I’m sure there will be a little look but then that’s quickly forgotten when you’re in the heat of it.”

George was one of those to advise World Rugby – via the Rugby Players’ Association – regarding July’s recent scrum law amendment (19.10b) to address “issues around the loading of the hooker’s neck and pressure coming through the top of the head”. 

With only a few international weekends gone since its introduction, teams have not had long to adapt before the World Cup kicks off.

George observed: “The first round of the Rugby Championship (scrums) were probably still a bit of a mess while they were still getting an understanding of it. The law probably only came in about two days before that first game happened. 

“Both of our scrums from both weeks (against Wales) have been pretty good so we have adapted pretty quickly. Ireland looked very dominant over Italy in their game, so it’s going to be a tough test for us.”

With news breaking of ex-England team-mate James Haskell’s transition from rugby to MMA, Itoje was fulsome in his praise of the former Wasps and Northampton forward.

“James isn’t afraid of a challenge, so fair play to him. It shows his character, how brave and how courageous he is. It shows his competitive spirit to want to try his hand at something else. 

“He could have picked the easier life, DJ-ing in Ibiza, but he has chosen to be a mixed martial arts artist. Fair play to him, I wish him every success.”

Would Itoje ever consider a similar career move? “I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’ll stick to rugby,” insisted the 24-year-old.

WATCH: Maro Itoje talks to RugbyPass before England’s World Cup warm-up match against Ireland

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'I'm a lover, not a fighter... I'll stick to rugby' - Itoje won't ever follow Haskell into the cage