England star Maro Itoje says being in the spotlight is a GOOD thing and can help grow rugby’s popularity…as long as players ensure their career remain the priority over commercial pursuits
- England rugby start Maro Itoje has encouraged players to embrace the spotlight
- Eddie Jones’ clumsy comments about Emma Raducanu highlighted rugby’s cautious attitude towards fame
- Itoje believes there is a healthy balance to be struck between sporting and commercial activities
- ‘If you keep the main thing the main thing then it is not a problem,’ Itoje said
England poster boy Maro Itoje believes rugby players must be ready to embrace the spotlight in order to grow the sport.
Eddie Jones highlighted rugby’s overly cautious attitude towards fame this week with a clumsy comparison between breakthrough star Marcus Smith and US Open tennis champion Emma Raducanu.
Unlike tennis, cricket and Formula One, rugby has struggled to expand its audience, with Danny Cipriani describing the attitudes as backward and outdated in his Sportsmail column.
Maro Itoje has encouraged rugby players to embrace the spotlight to help grow the sport
Itoje, pictured with rapper Jay-Z, said a balance should be struck between sporting and commercial activities
Itoje was photographed recently with hip hop superstar Jay Z and the lock believes there is a healthy balance to be struck between sporting and commercial activities.
‘If you keep the main thing the main thing — and the main thing is playing rugby — then it is not a problem,’ Itoje said. ‘If you consider other things more important than rugby, that is when it becomes an issue.
‘If you keep the main thing the main thing and don’t start to cut corners because of X, Y and Z, I think you will be all right.
Eddie Jones’ recent comments about Emma Raducanu (pictured) highlighted rugby’s cautious attitude to fame
Jones said that ‘distractions’ are behind Raducanu not doing so well since her US Open win
‘Rugby as a sport is not the dominant sport in this country. Rugby is always looking to expand its reach, its fanbase and its customer base. I think the way you do that is to tell stories about individuals, clubs, coaches and staff.
‘I think people connect with those stories. The more we can tell that story in a non-generic way, the more we will connect with a wider and wider audience.’
Today at Twickenham Itoje will start alongside Smith for the first time for England. Itoje arrived on the international scene with just as high expectations and has backed the No 10 to handle all that comes his way — on and off the pitch.
‘I shared a room with Marcus last week,’ said Itoje. ‘He is a brilliant individual. He’s a very down to earth type of guy. He is obviously extremely talented and he has a great attitude.
The lock forward is preparing for his 50th cap for England this weekend against Australia
‘There is not too much I need to say to him or do anything to him. He has a good head on his shoulders. He will be just fine.’
It will also be a landmark occasion for Itoje, who will lead out the team to mark his 50th England Test. The 27-year-old has still not been rewarded with an official leadership role within the team, however he feels he is now in a position to pass on his experience to younger guys like 22-year-old Smith.
‘As a player, I like to drive the energy of the team,’ he said. ‘I like to lead with my actions and try and be as vocal as I can be on the pitch and drive things that way.
‘Eddie has empowered me to do all of those things. I am nearly at 50 caps now so I guess I’m maybe a little bit more experienced and I can pass that down to the slightly younger members of the squad.
‘Whatever the team needs me to do, there is no ego here, I just want to make this team successful.’
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