Maro Itoje is determined to alter the perception of how he plays the game while preserving the confrontational style that helped England to a rousing 23-20 victory over France.
Itoje powered over for the late try that separated the rivals in a captivating Guinness Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
It was a cathartic performance for Itoje after he emerged as the main culprit during an indisciplined afternoon in Cardiff, his five penalties contributing to a 40-24 defeat by Wales that reduced England’s title defence to dust.
Against France, he infringed just once and with Eddie Jones claiming that his standout performer of the Championship is being targeted by referees, the Lions second row accepts adjustments must be made.
“There’s been a bit of perception that has come about with my game and how I play the game. I am just working hard to try and change that perception,” Itoje said.
“If you give away five penalties then referees will hear the outside noise that says Maro Itoje gives away a lot of penalties. Everything has an influence.
“Things that people say, things that people think – they all affect how referees prepare for the game. At the moment that’s the perception.
“I don’t want to lose any of the good stuff that I do because I know what I can bring to a team and how I can influence a game. But, at the same time, I want to change that perception.
“It’s just about making better decisions. I need to understand and read referees better. Make better decisions when I am on the field.
“Obviously I never want to lose my bite, I never want to lose my edge. I believe my mentality makes me the player I am. I want to still be as confrontational as I can.
“I don’t want to lose my key characteristics because if I do that, then you might as well play somebody else because that is the stuff that makes me, me.
“My attitude makes me the player I am. At the same time, I have to thread that needle more effectively. I didn’t give away as much against France, so that’s a step in the right direction.”
Itoje’s third try in 47 Tests was scored with four minutes to spare as England, trailing 20-16, showed resilience to rescue their Six Nations from disaster with a trip to Ireland to come.
“My tries aren’t really too pretty. It was a pick and go and I don’t think it was anything to scream and shout about, but we’re happy with it nonetheless,” Itoje said.
“I don’t really score much, it’s once in a blue moon, so I’ll take it whatever it looks like. A try is a try. They are all worth the same.
“This performance was not perfect. There were still loads of things that we can get better and be a bit sharper at.
“That’s definitely not gold standard, but I do believe we were better and it was a bit more of what we want to be as a team.”