Maro Itoje is hoping for a win double by Liverpool in the Champions League and his club Saracens in rugby’s Premiership final on this sporting super Saturday, and on the oval-ball front at least, the dynamic lock forward is confident his team has what it takes.
“I am an Arsenal fan and I definitely don’t want Tottenham to win the Champions League before Arsenal do,” said the 24-year-old Itoje. “So for the first time in my life I’m supporting Liverpool – fingers crossed with that one.”
But while Itoje can have no direct influence in events in Madrid, he is certain luck will play no part in his own assignment at Twickenham, as Saracens’ reigning Premiership champions go for the double after beating Leinster to win the European Cup three weeks ago.
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“I actively try and stay clear of superstitions because if for any reason my circumstances changed, I wouldn’t want that to mess with my head and make ridiculous conclusions,” said Itoje, who has won three Premierships and three European Cups with Saracens, in addition to earning 30 international caps in an already remarkable career. “Just because I didn’t eat some broccoli, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to run as fast.”
Sweeping the board
Saracens have done the double once before, in 2016, but they have won just two of the past seven Premiership meetings with today’s opponents Exeter Chiefs, and suffered a 31-13 shellacking in Devon in December. On the flipside, the clubs have met three times in finals – the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2015, when Itoje was Saracens’ captain, and the Premiership in 2016 and 2018 – and Sarries have won the lot.
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This season, Saracens have all but swept the honours board, also landing the Premiership sevens, the second-team Premiership Shield and the women’s Premier 15s (they missed out only in the developmental Premiership Rugby Cup, losing the final to Northampton). “We have a lot of players who have played in a lot of big games,” Itoje said. “Exeter are here for a reason, they are a good side, but I think we have grown tremendously in terms of resilience, in terms of how we want to play. This [final] is not going to be a new experience for us and we are extremely confident of what we can put out there on Saturday. Exeter are an extremely physical side, they love to keep the ball, especially in defence – but we relish the physical battle.”
Itoje added he feels unusually fresh after a mid-season break due to a knee injury and while his talk of being “process-driven” may sound clinical and unlovely, his relentless 80-minute battering of Gloucester in last week’s semi-final was as excitingly raw and elemental as any spectator could wish for. “I feel good and ready to go,” Itoje said, as he prepared for the last push before a five-week rest ahead of England’s World Cup squad getting together in July. “Winning is also a big help. Exeter did a job that weekend [in December[ but I’m very sure this weekend will be different.”