Maro Itoje has got an 'A' grade A-Level in statistics, so it might be worth starting with these: nine carries, 14 tackles, in both cases the most of any Lions player against New Zealand in Wellington last Saturday morning.

Then let's throw in a few more: Premiership A League champion, Under-20 World Cup winner, LV Cup champion, Aviva Premiership champion twice, Champions Cup winner twice, European Player of the Year for 2016, World Breakthrough Player of the Year for 2016, Six Nations champion, Six Nations Grand Slam champion.

And here's another one: Six appearances against New Zealand in New Zealand at various international levels and six victories.

In short at the tender age of 22 he's already done more than most manage in an entire rugby career but this Saturday comes the chance to eclipse the lot - the chance to be the hero of a British Lions series win in New Zealand.

You can't escape the fact that the Lions' dramatic win that levelled the series was achieved against 14 men. It's why the All Blacks remain 1.27 favourites to win the third Test and the series.

But it is one of those head versus heart weekends, and if there is one single reason to make you feel it's worth taking the opposite gamble and backing the Lions at 5.10 then it's the dramatic impact made by the giant Saracens lock when Warren Gatland finally brought him into the starting line-up last week.

Itoje, who didn't start playing rugby seriously until he was 16, is simply a force of nature. He's a player who is a serial winner, and not just because he's been playing for top teams at Saracens and with England. He does more than most to turn those teams into winners.

Think about this for another statistic. Starting in May of 2015 he went through an 18 month spell in which he won every match he started for club and country. All 31 of them. In a brutal, physical sport that's an astonishing record.

While the red card for Sonny Bill Williams was a crucial turning point in Wellington, Itoje was already stamping out his ground in the forward battle. His ferocious approach meant that Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock could not dominate in the scrums like they did in the first Test.

Those two will be going into the decider knowing they have a battle on their hands, and Itoje will have the upper edge mentally when the Haka is over and the first whistle blows on Saturday morning.

If the Lions are going to win it will be close, and a winning margin of between one and 12 points at 6.40 would be a way to enhance the odds if you want to back the tourists.

They have to stop giving away cheap penalties - 13 was far too many last week - and they have to match the physicality of an All Blacks side which will be bursting for revenge, just as they were in Dublin last Autumn a few months after losing to Ireland.

But in the giant, 6ft 6ins figure of Itoje they have found a man to lead them and history beckons.

0 nhận xét Blogger 0 Facebook

Post a Comment