At the age of just 20, Maro Itoje is already turning heads on the big stage, earning a nomination for the Land Rover Discovery of the Season Award, but Saracens team-mate Schalk Brits claims the powerhouse will only get better.
Itoje scored a try in his first Aviva Premiership Rugby game of the season – a 27-19 loss to Exeter Chiefs – and impresses every time he pulls on a Sarries shirt.
The lock is also renowned for his leadership ability despite his tender years, captaining Saracens in the LV= Cup, as well as Saracens Storm to victory in the Aviva A League and England in the Under-20s 6 Nations.
And South African Brits claims the youngster’s uncanny ability to seize his opportunities strongly reminds him of one of his countrymen.
“It makes me think of Schalk Burger back in the day when he was 18 or 19 and everyone said he was a flash in the pan, too small, too young but they gave him a shot and he performed,” explained Brits.
“And I think Maro’s the type of guy that no matter what situation you put him in or whatever pressure cooker he’s playing in, he will perform.
“I think pressure brings the best out of Maro and to have his confidence and self-belief at the age of 20 is special. You don’t get players like that every day but he’s one of them.
“Maro has had an outstanding season – he has grown so much as a player and he’ll grow a lot more. If a guy at the age of 20 can perform like that, think how good he will be.
“It’s great to play alongside him and definitely from an England perspective, he’s an exciting player for the future.
“But saying that, I think he’s ready now – if you’re going on performances and experiences. It’s just great seeing the guy show his talents.”
The Land Rover Discovery of The Season award is designed to recognise the most impressive young players in the Aviva Premiership Rugby each season and reward them for their outstanding contribution to the competition.
The winner will be announced at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards at the London Hilton on May 20, where Itoje will have to pip Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Jack Clifford and Elliot Daly to take away the trophy.
But Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola has tipped his team-mate to walk away with the honour when it comes down to it.
“I think Maro has got a very good chance of winning the Discovery of the Season award,” said Vunipola.
“Everything he touches this season seems to turn to gold but he can carry it off. He is a very humble guy despite his age.
“He just goes about his business and doesn’t let anything bother him. I’d say his sheer determination is his biggest strength.
“He doesn’t shy away from anything and the way he has led by example this year has been great.
“I definitely see him as a future Saracens captain, although only after me!”
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