‘It’s a drug’: Maro Itoje commits to England until 2027 Rugby World Cup

<span>Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
Photograph: David Davies/PA

Maro Itoje has given English rugby a timely boost by revealing his desire to continue representing his country until after the next Rugby World Cup. In contrast to his long-time Saracens teammate, Owen Farrell, Itoje is not planning to move abroad and has set his sights on remaining a Test regular for a “minimum” of four more years.

The 29-year-old lock forward has had approaches to join the growing foreign legion of English players in France but has decided he wants to stay and be available for both the 2025 British & Irish Lions tour and the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

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“As a bare minimum I want to do the next World Cup,” Itoje said, speaking on the first full day of England’s training camp on the Costa Brava.

“I want to play for the Lions and put myself in position to be selected. Those opportunities you really can’t take for granted. Being at the last World Cup was an amazing experience. The passion of the fans, the atmosphere, the buzz, the excitement. It’s a drug that is hard to stay away from. I would love the opportunity to do that again.”

Itoje’s expression of red rose loyalty is welcome news for the Rugby Football Union, which is looking to sign up the country’s leading players on new hybrid contracts. At his best the influential Lions forward remains a world-class operator in the second row and a potentially pivotal figure around whom the head coach, Steve Borthwick, can rebuild England’s pack.

With a shaven-headed new look and a renewed intent to maximise the peak years of his career, Itoje also says he now appreciates more than ever how much representing England means to him.

“I think playing for England is the absolute dream. It was always the goal. And playing at the highest level for England is the greatest opportunity for me to shine, to fully express myself and to express my competitive juices.

“As I sing the national anthem I look around and I think to myself: ‘Wow, this is special, not many people get to experience this in the way that I’m experiencing this.’ So if I was to step away from playing for England now I know a part of me would be eaten up inside.”

Instead Itoje, who has 76 caps and has now also successfully completed a postgraduate MBA, wants to contribute to an English renaissance, starting against Italy in Rome on Saturday week.

“Given my ripe age of 29, I have a bit of experience now. We know the last couple of Six Nations have not really been what we wanted them to be. The whole thing is to push the team forward and I definitely want to play a role in that. You want to create new memories and be part of a new journey.”

Even the sharp new haircut – “I thought, ‘Start of a new year, start of a new chapter, let’s have a different hairstyle and freshen things up’” – a pearl earring and his distinctive fashion tastes – “I like Afro 90s fusion with a modern twist” – could not totally distract, however, from the collective bull elephant in the England team room, namely Farrell’s absence after so many years of setting the ultra-competitive tone.

Itoje freely concedes Farrell will leave a hole for both club – “He’s left an impressive legacy that not many individuals can match” – and country which will necessitate a period of readjustment.

“I have worked and played with Owen for my whole career and this is the first camp when he hasn’t been around. He has his own unique style of leadership and he does that very well. I guess it’s inevitable with the change of captain and the changing of the squad that it will just be a little bit different.”

England, meanwhile, are awaiting scan results on Ollie Lawrence’s hip which will determine how long the Bath centre will spend on the sidelines after withdrawing from the squad preparing for the Italy fixture.

It also remains to be seen whether Luke Cowan-Dickie will feature in this year’s Six Nations, the Sale hooker having not flown to Spain because of an unspecified medical issue unconnected to the neck injury that ruled him out of the 2023 World Cup. Both players are out of the opening game against the Azzurri at Stadio Olimpico.