Maro Itoje on winning the World Cup, musicals, and finding balance
At just 24 years old, Maro Itoje already has four English Premiership titles with Saracens, three European Rugby Champions Cup titles, and two Six Nations Championship titles to his name. We sit down with the sporting hero to talk all things rugby, sports, and his love of musicals.
What age were you when you realised, ‘I’m quite tasty at rugby’?
I started playing around 11, and was called into the Saracens Academy at 14. When I was 15 or so, I thought if I dedicated myself to it, this could actually be my full-time thing.
What was it like committing yourself at such a young age?
I didn’t lack confidence when I was a child, but I wasn’t the most confident person. Rugby helped grow my confidence, not even from a physical point of view but a mental one, too. It allowed me to reach people and connect with those you may not have similarities with, who you can bond with over sport. It enabled me to socialise with people who I’d sometimes just meet for the day, or a couple of weeks, from different backgrounds and environments. It helped me do that very well. Rugby has given me so much, and I knew if I wanted it to be my job, I would have to dedicate myself to it. I was talented and I did have a good genetic makeup, but there was a big bridge to run over; for me to get to where I wanted to be required a lot of hard work.
Where do you keep all of your winners’ medals?
They’re all stored away right now, and I don’t have that many up. I’m actually moving house soon, so everything’s in boxes at the moment. I’m gonna have somewhere for all of that stuff, but I don’t really want my home to be a trophy room. I collect a few pieces of Nigerian art, and I would much prefer they’re on the wall than my shirts and stuff. Not to say I’m not proud of those, but I think you’ve got to have a bit of balance.
Hopefully if I win the World Cup, I’ll make sure I get that on the wall. That one will get special treatment! Besides that, I don’t know… If you have your medals on display at home, somewhere you want to relax and switch off, you’ll always be reminded of it. But to have a space where it’s completely free of that stuff is actually quite nice.
England are among the favourites…
Yeah. We have a good team, a very good team, with decent players, a great coach and a wonderful coaching staff. The support staff are amazing as well. I know the boys are really hard at work.
When it comes to prepping, are you a good sleeper?
I’m an OK sleeper, and I think it has improved over the course of the last couple of years. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, so it’s no surprise when they want to make someone uncomfortable, they make sure you don’t sleep! That in itself should highlight the importance of sleep… I also learn about my patterns with the Simba sleep app. It shows how deep a sleep I get, and it’s a good way of monitoring whether I’m getting my eight hours.
What do you do for balance?
I listen to a load of different podcasts and audiobooks, and I absolutely love theatre. I’m a huge fan of musicals. There are a few I want to see at the moment, especially Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. Have you seen it?
Mate, I’d love to! What musicals have you been rocking recently?
I’ve been to Les Miserables, The Bodyguard, The Lion King, Billy Elliot and Fela!, a Nigerian musical. Living in London, you can’t get away from Les Mis… What’s the little girl’s name? She was on the buses and tubes celebrating the 25th anniversary for about 10 years! I’ve always seen it. I first saw it when I was on a flight to Dubai and the movie was out, so I thought I’d watch it. I put my earphones in and I was so engaged. Afterwards, I took a big breath and I was like “What have I just watched? I’ve watched a masterpiece!” I’ve since bought the DVD, watched it again and then went to see it in the theatre when I was in Dubai. It was just unbelievable.
Is it better live than on film, then?
It’s always difficult when you compare the movie to the live performance because they just do it differently. Especially to the one you’re used to. You always compare it to that. So for example, I’ve watched Dreamgirls the movie, which is unbelievable, then saw Dreamgirls the musical. I sat there and I was like “Nah, Beyoncé didn’t do it like that. Nah, Jamie Foxx doesn’t sing it like that. Hmmm that’s OK, but Eddie [Murphy] sang it a little bit better”. It’s always difficult.
England rugby player Maro Itoje has teamed up with Simba Sleep’s #TryFor8 campaign and the new Simba Sleep app, which helps improve sleep performance and track your way to better sleep. Download now on iOS and Android