Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Itoje never doubted Saracens would return to the top of the table

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Maro Itoje never doubted Saracens would be in contention for the biggest prizes again but has admitted it would be an “amazing achievement” to find more Twickenham successes on Saturday.

StoneX Stadium Club are back in the Gallagher Premiership play-off final, 12 months after a two-legged win over Ealing, who earned promotion from the Second Division.

Sarries’ relegation to the Championship in 2020 should mark the end of an era for the north London club, who had won five league titles and three European crowns in a glittering decade of success before being shamed by the salary cap scandal became.

For England international Itoje, however, it was a matter of timing, not whether they would return to the home of English rugby to fight for honor once again.

“I felt that Saracens was the best place for me to continue growing as a rugby player and as a person and I still felt confident that it was an environment to achieve all my goals,” said the lock ahead of Saturday ‘s meeting with Leicester .

“It’s been a turbulent time for everyone involved at Saracens, but personally I had very little qualms about staying.

“I knew this was where I wanted to be and I knew the Saracens would fight for things again. You just have to look at the quality of the staff.

“When I say staff, I’m not just talking about playing staff, I’m talking about coaches, headquarters and support staff to know that we would eventually return to these types of arenas.”

It was in the winter of 2019 that the Saracens were initially fined for repeated salary cap violations, but it wasn’t until the following January when relegation was confirmed.

Covid-19 was the next headache for the club – and the world at large – with Itoje admitting it meant “double trouble” for Mark McCall’s men after their 70-point deduction.

The Saracens regrouped and retained most of their squad, with a number of England stars signing new deals before promotion was immediately secured. A steady first season back in the top flight followed, where last weekend’s win over Harlequins saw them book a return to Twickenham.

“We want to have successful careers, we don’t want to have a successful year or a couple of successful years. We want to have a successful career,” explained Itoje.

“To do that you have to be consistent, you have to be there and have the hunger to go, go and go year after year.

“I don’t like to judge things, but this would be just the ticket. We have a lot of work to do to get there. Leicester are a top team and we need to make sure we play our best rugby but that would be an amazing achievement for the club if we can do that.”

Former Burnley boss Sean Dyche is one of the more recent guest speakers invited to Saracens to speak to the squad and Itoje believes the importance the club places on self-development is a big part of its success.

It has allowed the 27-year-old British and Irish Lion to speak comfortably on all subjects, including what would make Saturday’s Premiership final an even bigger event as it would draw a larger audience, according to the London-born forward .

Itoje added: “I think if you compare it to other major sporting events, the Champions League final or the Grand Prix, like recently in Monaco or Miami, this is an event that people don’t want to miss.

“I’m sure Twickenham will be sold out and there will be a lot of people there but it will be mostly rugby fans.

“It’s different from some of the other events I’ve talked about is that it’s an event that ordinary people, ordinary sports fans or people in general, people don’t want to miss.

“You want to be there, feel the atmosphere and feel the experience, that’s the challenge of these big rugby events.

“Obviously the rugby fans will always be there and will always be important. We can’t do anything without the rugby fans so they need to be heard but we want to make it a spectacle so the common man wouldn’t want to miss it because it’s the Premiership final it should be the biggest event in town. “

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