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The England training ground attitude that makes Maro Itoje stand out from the crowd

By Liam Heagney

Ex-England skipper Dylan Hartley has given his insight on what makes Maro Itoje so competitive, adding that he wishes he didn’t neglect ten years of his own career not training to learn instead of simply just training to train. 

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Itoje was at the heart last Saturday in driving England to Six Nations glory for the first time since Hartley collected the trophy in 2017 and the now-retired hooker has explained why he has the utmost admiration for how the second row goes about his business of trying to get better as a player. 

Appearing as co-host on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload with ex-Wales midfielder Jamie Roberts, Hartley gave a glimpse as to what life is like inside England training with the likes of Itoje, suggesting he wished it had been like that way back when he was initially capped at Test level.

“That is why Eddie (Jones) was really good for me – he probed, pushed, said you needed to do this, do that. He actually gave me feedback instead of at 21 I got capped and then it felt like I played rugby for ten years without being coached on specific things,” outlined Hartley, reflecting on his 97-cap career with England which ended with a final appearance in November 2018.  

“I used to just train for the sake of training and then one guy, almost like a mentor of mine, said why do you train? Are you training to get better or are you training just to train? I was, I suppose I am just training.

“But as soon as he asked me that I started approaching training, how can I train better today, how can I push myself in certain areas, how can I challenge and test myself, make myself feel uncomfortable, put myself in positions where I might have to catch the ball as a front row player? 

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“Just little things like that. It just changed my mindset to training but that happened at 30 years old. I was late for the party,” he said, stating that the same unnamed mentor gave Itoje the same sage advice about training. 

“It’s basically the same guy that told me about training to get better, he actually went on then to communicate that to the whole team… you’re never just waiting for the weekend. Every minute of every session is preparing for that so just deal with that next moment in front of your face. Train to get better and Maro epitomises that because he is such a competitor. 

“Eddie wants an environment where everyone is striving to win. They talked about winning that (2019) World Cup for four years in my time there and when I left they were still talking about that. They didn’t quite do it but it was there for them, they could have reached out and got it with two hands if they made that final push. 

“But that England environment is basically built for everyone to compete and to push and to win. You talk about winning the weights session, winning everything, just try and be as competitive as possible and maybe that is the Australian side of Eddie coming out because every Aussie I know is a competitive sod.

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“So Maro, if you look at him, he is physical, he is athletic, but if I look at his game, I’d say it is built on his competitive nature, his competitive confrontation, his competitive physicality, everything you want in a big modern lock. 

“He is quite unassuming off the field but as soon as he comes into this leadership role, whether it is talking about lineout defence or leading the team on the field, he’s just a whole different personality and it’s all built on being a competitor.”

    

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