Itoje happy to be 'secret' student
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Maro Itoje may be one of English rugby's rising stars but the powerful forward insisted Wednesday he can quite happily go "incognito" when he reverts to being a university student.
Itoje, 21, is in the final year of a politics degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of London University, attending lectures two days a week alongside his career as a professional Rugby Union player with English and European champions Saracens.
"I don't think a lot of my classmates know who I am," said Itoje, whose height and dreadlocked hair helped him cut a distinctive figure on the pitch.
"My university experience is a little bit different to the standard student's. I can be fairly discreet because only some lecturers and tutors know who I am.
"It makes life a little bit easier. I don't mind it - it's quite nice to go incognito for a while.
"I'm in my final year now, I did my first two years full-time, but I had to split my last year over two. I'm in the home straight.
"It helps me take my mind off rugby - politics and development is a little bit different to Premiership rugby.
"It gives you a chance to lead a balanced life. It helps you keep the mind ticking over on other things, so it's helpful".
Although he has made his name as a lock, Itoje could fill the gap caused by several injuries at openside flank when England begin their end of year campaign against South Africa at Twickenham on November 12.
England coach Eddie Jones has labelled the Springboks as "bullies". Itoje plays alongside a number of South Africans at Saracens in Schalk Burger, Schalk Brits and Neil de Kock.
"South Africa are a very proud rugby nation and you notice that when you spend time with the South Africans in our squad," Itoje said.
"They're very proud and passionate about their rugby and they care a lot. They're very physical as well and are known for their physicality."
Itoje was speaking at Twickenham, England's headquarters ground in southwest London, which will stage its first NFL match when the Los Angeles Rams face the New York Giants on Sunday.
"I spent some time in America with an NFL player called Cassius Marsh," he said. He's a linebacker for Seattle. He's a good guy, a friend of one of my friends, but rugby is my passion and I have no desire to swap."
Itoje added: "He didn't try to recruit me, but he thought rugby was cool. He was like, 'You guys don't use pads man?'
"They are obviously two different sports. The kind of tackles that they do, you wouldn't be able to do in rugby - you'd probably get a straight red in rugby."