Tuesday 22 August 2017

Maro Itoje insists Lions have to cut out cheap penalties if they are to beat New Zealand in third Test

Maro Itoje of the Lions celebrates after their victory during the match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium on July 1, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Maro Itoje of the Lions celebrates after their victory during the match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium on July 1, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Nick Purewal

Maro Itoje believes the British and Irish Lions must cut out the cheap penalties to launch a realistic bid to win the Test series against New Zealand.

The Lions edged past the All Blacks 24-21 in Wellington on Saturday to square their three-Test series at one win apiece.

Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray claimed the tries with Owen Farrell blasting a late winning penalty, after Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for the hosts.

Itoje was as guilty on the penalty front as anyone in the Lions' Westpac Stadium win - and has vowed to enforce a discipline clampdown before next weekend's series decider in Auckland.

"Thirteen penalties is way too many for us to be conceding," said Itoje. "It's something we spoke about and didn't fix.

"We will have to have a hard look at ourselves, figure out the reasons why we're giving away those penalties and try to reduce it.

"We've got to be more disciplined."

The Lions lost the first All Blacks Test 30-15 amid a battering in the pack from the hosts at Eden Park.

Boss Warren Gatland received the emotional and physical response he had demanded in the second Test, however, leaving Itoje proud of the Lions' riposte.

And the astute 22-year-old Saracens lock now believes the Lions can get even better, and all just in time for the series decider.

"We only got together six or seven weeks ago, and we've been improving week by week," said Itoje.

"The first couple of weeks it took us a bit of time to find our feet.

"Each day that passes is another opportunity to get to know the guys better, another opportunity to build that chemistry and another opportunity to improve and get a better understanding of one another.

"And I think that's what will happen."

Itoje was not even born when the Lions last triumphed in New Zealand, the 20-7 second Test victory in 1993.

However, he had such a pivotal role in Saturday's Wellington win that thousands of Lions fans spent much of the Westpac Stadium encounter chanting his name.

Asked if he had heard the deafening chants, Itoje replied: "I did and obviously it's nice but I was fully concentrated on the game at the time so I can only really enjoy it now.

"I'm very honoured to be a part of this team. We've achieved something pretty good today. but it's only half-time. It's one-all and we've got a big week ahead."

Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler was involved in a touchline spat with several All Blacks players at full-time - but Itoje insisted the England front-rower observed the customary guard of honour.

Itoje backed Sinckler's spiky side as right on the money as the Lions muscle up for what could be an even more brutal third Test.

"He did go down the guard of honour," said Itoje of Sinckler. "He was fine to be honest. He's a passionate guy, and those are the type of players we want.

"We want our players against the All Blacks to be passionate, and try not to make it easy for them in terms of physicality.

"They are a top team, with big boys in there with a lot of experience as well, so we have to meet fire with fire. So he was absolutely fine."

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