Itoje rises to the occasion with a stellar performance

Second-row hero is staking a claim as the greatest talent of his generation and will only get better, which should have the rest of the rugby world worried.

YOKOHAMA, 26 Oct - There was no surprise when Maro Itoje was named Player of the Match as England stormed into the Rugby World Cup final by defeating New Zealand 19-7. Some would have handed him the award at half-time.

This was another of those monumental performances by a man who is regarded by many as the greatest rugby talent of his generation, and the great news for England is that he is only going to get better.

Itoje is playing at the top of his game and, off the field, he is becoming ever more astute. On the eve of what turned out to be the outstanding England performance under head coach Eddie Jones, it was the Saracens second-row who sounded the rallying cry by declaring that England were going to "get" New Zealand in the semi-final.

Not only did the 24-year-old, pictured above winning yet another lineout, set the tone perfectly for England but, by his actions, he led the dominance of the Rugby World Cup holders and favourites with a combination of ruthless physical ferocity and sublime skills.

New Zealand picked an extra jumper in an attempt to embarrass England at the lineout and Itoje rose – literally – to the occasion, winning seven lineouts. Of course, he is not infallible and a missed throw from Jamie George to Itoje fell into the grateful arms of Ardie Savea for the All Blacks' try.

Itoje will hold his hand up and take responsibility for the try, and will work even harder in the build-up to the final to ensure there is no repeat of that miscommunication. His relentless pursuit of rugby excellence is matched only by his humility.

Asked about his performance he said: "I can be more engaged in the game. Be more in the moment. I think if I do that, hopefully I can still improve a little bit."

He made more than 10 tackles and won three vital turnovers, but what he also gave the team was a focal point, a man to follow over the top and into the black jerseys.

Itoje's reaction to helping England into their first World Cup final since 2007 was measured and honest. He said: "If you want to win a game of rugby, you have to win the breakdown battle. We weren't perfect but we did a good job."

Next week the search for perfection will continue.

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