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For a while now the number crunchers at Rugby Pass have been running an index to determine the most valuable players in the sport, and Maro Itoje has consistently led the way.
On Saturday night you didn’t need to run any algorithms to determine the most influential player on the field; he was there for all to see.
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When Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett and Codie Taylor close their eyes and think of England, they’ll see Itoje looming. It is his hulking frame that will haunt their dreams.
For much of the last decade the Kiwis have had the premier lineout in the game, run by the elite second-rows.
That era came crashing down around them in Yokohama, and it was Itoje who lit the fuse with a display of incredible intelligence, athleticism and skill that marked him out as the best in the business.
His name rang down from the stands to the tune of Seven Nation Army, just as it did in Wellington two years ago when he was a leading light in the Lions’ win over the All Blacks in that second Test.
He was very good then, but he’s better now. At 24, playing in his first World Cup, he delivered big play after big play against the team everyone thought was the best in the world, until they ran into England on a good day.
Standing in the mixed zone afterwards he chatted to reporters with a nonchalance that made you wonder if it was the same man we’d watched deliver so much on the pitch. While others bore the scars of battle, he looked like he’d barely broken a sweat on the pitch.
He stuck to the party line in his interview, as most players in his position do. It was left for others to acclaim what they’d witnessed, even if it came at their own expense.
“He is maturing into a really good rugby player,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“I watched the game again this morning and he is a nuisance. On many, many occasions.
“He’s athletic, he is a smart player and he has the abilit
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