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Maro Itoje already prepared for Saracens title defence

Maro Itoje already prepared for Saracens title defence

Maro Itoje warned the 11 other Gallagher Premiership Rugby sides that Saracens will be hungrier than ever to win a third straight title next season.

The lock was man-of-the-match in Saturday’s epic 37-34 victory over Exeter Chiefs, where late tries from Liam Williams, Sean Maitland and Jamie George sealed a fourth title in five seasons.

With the Heineken Champions Cup already sewn up, it’s the second double in four seasons for Mark McCall’s men – but it was far from straightforward at Twickenham Stadium.

Exeter led for much of the final and with the likes of Gloucester Rugby and Northampton Saints on an upward trend, as well as a new director of rugby in at Bath Rugby, Itoje knows retaining the trophy next season will be a tough assignment.

However, the 24-year-old – who is likely to miss part of the season due to the Rugby World Cup – has already promised another fully-committed assault.

“We are a team that is ever-growing and the more we grow, the stronger we get,” he said.

“Each year, we have more experience in these encounters so, even though I won’t be here for the start of pre-season, I know how this club works. We will re-set and be as hungry as ever.

“Hopefully, we go on to better things next year. Every year, it gets harder, this season, despite the results, has been harder from an emotional and physical point of view.

“You make it harder on yourself because every time you achieve success, you set a benchmark for yourself and whenever you fail to reach that standard, it is an emotional roller-coaster.

“Next year will be harder to do the same. Every team keeps getting better, so we want to make sure we keep on improving.”

Exeter so nearly claimed their second Gallagher Premiership Rugby trophy and even led by 11 points when Henry Slade powered over for their fourth try midway through the second half.

Yet, that seemed to inspire Saracens, with Williams collecting an Owen Farrell cross-field kick to score within a minute.

And Itoje believes Slade’s try was the catalyst they needed to discover their best form.

“I think when we play at our best, it will take a hell of a team to beat us. We did not play our best, we were off for a large part of the game,” said the Saracens lock.

“But one of the good things about this team is that we have a lot of character and a lot of resilience.

“That is the best Exeter team I have played against for a while and they really brought it for us but we had the strength of character to see it through.

“A rugby match is 80 minutes – not 60 or 65 – and it is not over until the lady sings, so we have to keep fighting for the majority, especially when you are down.

“But that is also true when you are on top because it is a game of momentum and when you have momentum, you have to fit even harder to keep it.”

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