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Koch's 'funny' time and what Itoje is 'very clear on' at Saracens

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

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Saracens boss Mark McCall has relayed how Vincent Koch is relieved to be back in the mix with the London club following his four months with the Springboks, adding that Lions talisman Maro Itoje is champing at the bit to be involved this Sunday away to Bath in what would be his first appearance of the season. The 31-year-old South African prop brought the curtain down on his long spell outside England by helping his country to an October 2 win over the All Blacks in Australia.

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He has since returned to his Premiership club and ahead of a busy winter with Saracens and also with the UK-touring Springboks in November, McCall has promised they will ensure they will do exactly what is best for the front-rower. “He has had a funny more than twelve months,” reported McCall when asked what state Koch is in following his Springboks exertions.

“He has been not busy at all and then very busy. He didn’t play a game between the end of October and the start of March. There was this huge period of time where he didn’t play any rugby at all. He has been busy since then but he is just glad to be out of a bubble environment, glad to be back in his house with his wife and his kid, back in with the boys and that kind of thing. We will look after him over the course of the next three, four months, make sure he gets plenty of time off as well as playing rugby.”

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In contrast to Koch’s hectic schedule, England lock Itoje hasn’t played a match since starting for the Lions in Cape Town on August 7. Itoje was entitled to a nine-week break in between games and Saracens afforded him that with a view to ensure he hits the ground running at The Rec in what will be his first Premiership outing in twelve months due to his club’s one-season stay in the Championship.

“He came back into training at the same time as everybody else but we wanted to give him a little more time than the other Lions players because he played a few more minutes than everybody else, but he is champing at the bit and it is great to have him back,” reported McCall, who insisted Itoje has remained as grounded as ever at Saracens and hasn’t been swayed by his growing profile, both inside and outside of rugby.

“Maro is very much in control of the most important things in his life. He is very clear on that. I have never seen anything that would indicate that his rugby is suffering in any way. So he is completely on top of things, I would say up there with any of our players in terms of a day in, day out consistent trainer and is someone who is as professional as they get really.

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Barring injury in his comeback game, Itoje will be included in the England squad that is set to be announced next Monday for the autumn internationals. Much attention will be on whether the Vunipola brothers Mako and Billy, along with Jamie George, will be selected having been omitted from last month’s mini-training camp squad. McCall reckoned their recent efforts for Saracens won’t harm their chances of inclusion. 

“What we are seeing on a weekly basis from them, on a day-to-day basis from them, isn’t anything new really. It’s what they always bring. They have always been huge contributors to the group on and off the field. That is the way they are at the moment.

“They all seem highly motivated. Whether that is because they want to get back on the international scene and back in the squad or whether it is just them being them, it’s hard to sometimes differentiate between the two.”

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