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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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Iain Henderson has been teaching Maro Itoje about Northern Irish politics

The second row pair have been rooming on the Lions’ tour of New Zealand.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

GETTING TO KNOW new people is a huge part of any rugby tour and Maro Itoje is loving that aspect of the Lions’ trip to New Zealand.

The intelligent, explosive lock will make his first start for the Lions on Wednesday evening against the Blues at Eden Park, but he has been busy off the pitch up until this point, learning about his team-mates and entirely new subjects.

Subjects like Northern Irish politics.

James Haskell and Maro Itoje Itoje is an intelligent player and person. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Itoje is a student of Politics at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, combining his studies with life as a professional rugby player. He has one last exam to do in his final year in mid-August, but his knowledge of world politics is excellent.

However, Itoje is happy to admit that Northern Irish politics isn’t his specialty and his latest roommate, Ireland and Ulster lock Iain Henderson, has stepped in to do something about it.

“I’m getting to play with a lot of players I haven’t played with before,” said Itoje of the Lions tour on Monday in Auckland. “These guys are at the top of their game and have been performing for a number of years.

“For me, it’s great to be able to mix it with these guys. They’re well-established internationals and the top players from each of their countries. For me, it’s been absolutely great.

“My roommate at the moment is Iain Henderson. He’s been giving me a little debrief on Northern Irish politics, which was very interesting for me. That’s not exactly my area of expertise. He didn’t give me the whole thing otherwise we’d have been there for quite a while!

“Sean O’Brien’s a bit of a character, it’s been nice getting to know him. My first roommate was Rhys Webb. He sleeps like an absolute champion. Either I’m really boring or he sleeps a lot!”

Given the imposing quality of his performances for England and Saracens, it’s easy to forget that Itoje is still just 22-years-old.

Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson and George Kruis Itoje has been rooming with Iain Henderson. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He is the best of all things second row. He’s an enforcer, a spoiler, a leader, a ruck-hitter, a lineout powerhouse and more. While Itoje may still have improvements ahead of him – scary, that – he is already a lock of considerable force.

Itoje might have a clever edge to him, but Warren Gatland will be looking for him to lead physically against the Blues on Wednesday and perhaps against the All Blacks later on the tour.

“Every team you play you try and be physical,” said Itoje. “There hasn’t been a game I’ve played since I started playing professional rugby where I thought ‘Ah, ok, I can’t be physical today’ or ‘I can take it a little bit easy today’.

“Rugby is a physical sport and every game you play there’s a physical element to it and more often than not, the team who ends up winning has been more physical, has been more dominant.

“So obviously we look at the type of players we have and the way we want to try and play and we’ll try and be as physical as possible and try and get the edge that way.”

Itoje has the comfort of playing alongside fellow England international Courtney Lawes on Wednesday and that familiarity should be helpful as he looks to make a big impact.

“Courtney’s a fantastic player,” said Itoje. “I think this season has shown how good a player he actually is. He’s been on his best form, in my opinion, so it’s nice to have an athletic aggressive guy beside you.

“He’s a very smart player, he’s good with his hands, he’s physical and he’s experienced, he’s been around the block a bit – and he’s a nice guy so that makes it a lot easier! I’m enjoying playing with him.

Maro Itoje The Englishman is a powerful presence. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I’ve got to know him over the last two years and every time I play with him I enjoy it and I don’t see any reason why this will be any different.”

While rugby is foremost in Itoje’s mind, he is an aware, balanced person and events at home in London at the weekend shocked him deeply.

Itoje is a native of the English capital and he has been sending his best wishes to everyone at home.

“It’s tough. These things are happening a bit too often for anyone’s liking. It’s a real dark and crass situation which we all wish doesn’t happen again. My heart and condolences go out to all those involved.

“These things are always more daunting when they happen on your doorstep, in your home city, the city you’ve grown up in.

“It’s tough, but in these kind of situations London and the whole of Britain show how resilient they are and how quickly we’ll bounce back.”

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Murray Kinsella

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