Maro Itoje can still remember the moment four years ago when his World Cup dream was shattered by Stuart Lancaster, a bitter disappointment of being axed which is fuelling his desire to help England become champions in Japan.
Itoje pulls on the England jersey for the 28th time against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday having used the time between World Cups to become a British and Irish Lions star and the outstanding England forward of his generation.
As one of the most erudite members of the England squad, Itoje is happy to reveal the depth of his disappointment and how he used that set-back to ensure he was one of the first names head coach Eddie Jones wrote down as he compiled the 31-man squad that will attempt to win the tournament in Japan.
Itoje, 24, said: “Definitely, I was very upset after being cut in 2015 after two weeks of the training camp and so I wasn’t even there for a long time.
“However, I’m a believer that things happen for a reason and that experience, the feeling and lessons that I learnt from being in that environment, allowed me to self-evaluate and self-reflect about where I actually was. It gave me a clear idea of where I wanted to be and to work harder and eventually achieve my goals.
“It’s a completely different situation for me compared to four years ago. I’m happy and four years ago I was sad. I’m incredibly excited and watching the boys playing against Wales last Sunday, it looked like they were having such a good time. I’m desperate to play for England and desperate to do well and win.
“All the guys were super eager to impress against Wales and I really wanted to be part of the team. They played extremely well. I have seen how they have been behind the scenes and in training and it was very nice to see them do well and get what they worked hard for.”
Maro Itoje hitting the bags in Pennyhill
Itoje’s parents are Nigerian. He has close links with the African nation and is part of a very diverse England squad that he believes is stronger for the different backgrounds of the players including Billy and Mako Vunipola’s Tongan roots, scrum-half Willi Heinz hailing from New Zealand and Manu Tuilagi’s extensive Samoan family.
The Saracens lock, who made his England debut the year after the 2015 World Cup, explained: “This is probably the most diverse England squad there has ever been with people from different countries – we are all English – different classes and if you look at the 1995 England World Cup squad and this one you will see a lot more diversity and that’s amazing.
“Our diversity in terms of how we think, go about our business as well as in terms of genetic make-up sets an example. No man is an island and you have to do things together and dividing people never works. There is a slippery slope when you do that going down a negative path.”
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