MARO ITOJE has revealed his pride after being named in the British and Irish Lions’ starting line-up for Saturday’s second Test against New Zealand.
The Saracens lock was controversially left out of the side for the opening Test last weekend, but impressed when coming on as a second-half substitute and has been rewarded by being selected from the start this time around.
And Itoje admitted that he is delighted to have been selected – although his joy was tinged with some disappointment as he has taken the place of his Saracens team-mate George Kruis in the side.
I am very excited to start,” he said. “It’s a huge honour. This is the kind of thing you aspire to as a kid growing up playing rugby and I am looking forward to the challenge, getting out there and putting my best foot forward.
“It is a tough gig. I missed out last week, unfortunately George is not in this week, but it is the nature of the beast.
“All the second rows are making life difficult for the coaches. Whichever way they were going to pick it was always going to be difficult, players are going to be disappointed when they are not selected, but it is about putting your best foot forward and hoping for the best.”
The Lions ended up being beaten 30-15 in last weekend’s opening Test and must win this time around to keep the series alive heading into next week’s final Test.
Itoje is well aware of the size of the task they face against the world champions, but he is confident that the Lions can produce an improved performance this time around.
“It is obvious that New Zealand are a talented team with good players,” Itoje added. “They work hard for one another so the intensity last Saturday was at a very high level.
“For us it is about making sure we are right and making sure we do what we can. I don’t think we played to our potential last week, we let things slip through our hands and we will try our best this week to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“That was not where we want to be, we spoke about that this week. We need to up it and I am sure you will see a response from the boys this weekend.”