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'I've been coached since I was 14 to celebrate stuff like that'

Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler faced some criticism after the Lions’ defeat to the Blues.

Murray Kinsella reports from Christchurch

IF YOU’VE BEEN watching Saracens and England in recent years, then Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler’s big celebrations of a choke tackle turnover on Wednesday night against the Blues won’t have been surprising in the least.

Both of those teams have heartily celebrated big defensive plays for some time now, with the likes of Itoje so often pumping their arms and roaring with pleasure at another successful stand in defence.

Celebrate The Lions celebrate a turnover against the Blues.

Itoje and Sinckler were clearly thrilled with a turnover in the 72rd minute against the Blues, with the scoreline still 16-15 in the Lions’ favour, and many of those watching on loved seeing their open display of energy and passion.

For others, the celebration of the turnover was over the top and only served to motivate the Blues to come back at the Lions, eventually scoring the winning try through Ihaia West. With that unfair benefit of hindsight, some were critical of Itoje and Sinckler.

Whatever your opinion on the matter is – and reaction was certainly split down the middle – the celebrations won’t be going away any time soon.

Jamie George, who gets his first Lions start tomorrow, is a team-mate of Itoje’s at Saracens and he says celebrating the small victories is what they are coached to do.

“In the example you’re talking about, we’re defending for a long time and it’s an important part of the game,” said George.

“At Saracens especially, we’re told to celebrate the small victories. We often celebrate if we get a turnover because we want to celebrate the effort of the players around us.

Jamie George George is one of the impressive Saracens on this Lions tour. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You’re putting in a huge amount of effort to try and get the ball back, that’s why you defend, isn’t it? It was a refereeing decision but it was off the back of all the work our team-mates had done. Maro brings a huge amount of energy to people around him and him celebrating that shows he cares.”

Some have perceived Itoje’s actions, and similar incidents, as being designed to get in the oppositions’ faces, intimidating them and hammering home the turnover or defensive stand.

But George says it has nothing to do with the opposition.

“Not at all, it’s all intrinsic with him. He just cares about the team a huge amount and when he reacts like that, it lifts everyone else around him. I think you look at a lot of the English guys I’ve played with, guys at Saracens, we’re very similar in that respect.”

And George stresses that celebrations of this kind simply show how much it means to players like Itoje and Sinckler to be playing for the Lions.

“We care for the jersey, we care for the people around us, we care for our families,” said George. “Those are the people we’re representing whenever we go onto the field.

Itoje Itoje will keep celebrating big plays.

“Maro is a very proud person, I know that, and that’s probably the reason he reacted the way he did and I don’t see any issue with it.

“It’s a huge positive. I’ve been coached since I was 14 to celebrate stuff like that, so I don’t think we’re going to be changing anytime soon.”

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Murray Kinsella

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