Maro Itoje feared that he had missed out on British and Irish Lions selection amid the noise generated by his Saracens teammates cheering Jamie George’s inclusion.
The English and European champions’ entire squad gathered in front of the TV at their St Albans training base to watch the names of those who will travel to New Zealand being announced live last month.
Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions face the All Blacks in eight weeks and we look at the form of players selected and those who could make the plane to New Zealand in the case of injury.
The British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer will be the last in its existing six-week format, Premiership Rugby has confirmed.
To win selection for the Lions as player or coach is the pinnacle of any British and Irish rugby professional’s ambitions, and this year three men will go on their fifth tour.
The club supplies six of the 41 chosen by Warren Gatland but, following the roar that greeted George’s inclusion ahead of England captain Dylan Hartley, Itoje was afraid that his own name had not been read out.
“What happened was… obviously I and G are near to each other in the alphabet,” Itoje said.
“When we heard Jamie’s name read out, everyone was screaming, so we missed the player who was next which was Iain Henderson. I didn’t hear that and I was thinking: ‘Guys, shut up, I don’t want to miss it.’
“If I’m in, I need to know — I don’t want to be worried and have to check it back. In my head I was like: ‘Guys, be quiet.’
“There was a second when I thought I had missed out. I missed the next name as well with the cheering that came after mine.”
Itoje is the youngest of the 2017 Lions, meaning that the task of looking after squad mascot Bil the Lion falls to him.
The 2009 trip to South Africa, which ended in a 2-1 series defeat, was the first tour that the 22-year-old England lock followed in depth, having only started playing rugby in 2006.
“To be picked was unbelievable — I was extremely honoured,” he enthused.
“To have the opportunity to be part of the tour is incredible and something you aspire to do as a child – now I have the opportunity to do so, I feel really privileged.”
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