Maro Itoje will be a player that the Springboks will focus on in the Rugby World Cup final. Photo: EPA
The talk of the World Cup town after the semi-finals is that Red Rose lock Maro Itoje can walk on water, and that his combustible mix of athleticism and power is going to be bamboozle the Boks.

Even taking into account the gush from the euphoric UK press in the wake of England’s “greatest ever performance” in dumping the All Blacks out of the World Cup, the 25-year-old Itoje does seem to have the world at his feet.

First of all, he predicted the English win, which prior to the match ruffled Kiwi feathers - “We’re going to get them this time.

“I look at the quality of our team, our coaching and our support staff and it gives me immense confidence” - and then not only did his prophecy come true, but he was Player of the Match.

And that was not the first time he won that accolade against the All Blacks.

In 2017 he delivered a Man of the Match performance in the British and Irish Lions’ second Test victory.

Off the pitch he seems to have all bases covered, too.

At high school he represented England at shot put, sang in the choir, played soccer and basketball.

He has a degree in Politics and delivered dissertations on underdevelopment in Africa, his interest in the continent no doubt stirred by his roots in Nigeria - he was born Oghenemaro Miles Itoje in London to Nigerian parents.

A centre in his school rugby team, he grew into a 1.95m (6ft 5in), 115kg lock, with not an ounce of fat on him.

A member of the all-conquering Saracens team, his teammates describe how he calms himself on the bus trips to games by writing poetry.

The good-looking Itoje has become a pin-up model in the UK, his celebrity star surely flamed by his relationship with Prince Harry’s cousin, Lady Amelia Windsor.

A man who clearly likes the big rugby occasions, in 2016 Itoje led Saracens to victory in the European Champions’ Cup final against Racing Metro ‘92, picking up the Man of the Match award.

In the same season he was named European player of the Year.

Just two years before he had captained England to the 2014 Junior World Championship title.

So far his honours include four English premiership titles with Saracens, three European Championship gold medals with the same club; plus two Six Nations titles with England.

And, now of course, the whole of England are certain he will spearhead the Red Rose army to victory over South Africa in the World Cup final.

Unquestionably his opposite number, Eben Etzebeth, has taken note of him, as has the Boks’ other second rower, Lood de Jager as well as Franco Mostert and RG Snyman.

But Itoje will not be afraid.

As he said before being the best player on the field in England’s semi-final against New Zealand: “Ric Flair (WWE wrestling champion) said, ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man’.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. That is our challenge.

“That is what is in front of us.”

@MikeGreenaway67 


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