Maro Itoje is one of 10 players named in England’s starting XV who also played in the 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final: England v South AfricaVenue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 21 October Kick-off: 20:00 BSTCoverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.
Maro Itoje has told his England team-mates to disregard the past and ignore the future to derail South Africa in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final.
England lost to the Springboks in the 2019 final and were well beaten when the teams last met in November 2022.
“These occasions don’t come by very often,” Itoje told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“We can’t afford to be distracted about what happens next week, in two weeks’ time or four years ago. It is all about what happens on Saturday night.”
Ten of England’s starting XV – including Itoje – played in the 32-12 defeat by South Africa four years ago in Yokohama and the 28-year-old says the atmosphere around the camp has ratcheted up as they attempt to avenge that loss and end the Springboks’ title defence.
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“It is an incredible opportunity, an incredible privilege and honour to be here,” he added. “These moments are special in your career.
“You can definitely tell this is a big week, from the mood in camp, from the concentration of the boys, you can definitely tell there is a different energy about the place.”
‘England ready for Springbok semi-final challenge’
England are distinct underdogs after South Africa produced a superb performance to eliminate hosts France last weekend.
Itoje has played South Africa 10 times for either England or the British and Irish Lions, winning four of those encounters.
“The DNA of South African rugby is more or less always consistent – strong set piece, strong kicking game, they have some very, very quick backs, good at the breakdown,” he added.
“They are a good team, a good all-round team.”
Itoje will start alongside Leicester’s George Martin in the second row for only the second time, but says the 22-year-old will bring the edge required in a confrontation with South Africa’s powerful front five.
“George is a fantastic player,” he said. “His attitude is great – he is a real, real workhorse, his energy, his impacts.
“He is a physical, young Leicester forward and they normally make them a little gnarlier up there.
“He is not the loudest, but he speaks through his actions.”
Earl ‘excited’ by Bok-busting gameplan
Ben Earl (left) has become a key part of Steve Borthwick’s team
Number eight Ben Earl has been one of England’s stand-out players so far at the tournament, making more metres and line breaks and beating more defenders than any other player in the squad.
Earl’s performances prompted defence coach Kevin Sinfield to claim earlier this week that the Saracen would be in contention for a World XV on current form.
The 25-year-old back row says England’s coaching staff have come up with a gameplan to defy the odds and take the side into a second successive World Cup final.
“I am not going to tell you what it is but it is a really exciting plan for us, one that plays to our strengths in terms of the team we have selected,” Earl told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Now it is up to the players to bring it to life. Each plan has little bits in it that resonate with you and you think ‘I can do that’. It is about finding your niche in the gameplan and going after that.
“We want to be big-game players, players for the big moments. If we are better and they are better, we will see where we end up.”
You can hear more from Maro Itoje and Ben Earl in Friday’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
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