Itoje: "I don’t know if you ever watched Lion King but Timon and Pumbaa had a saying called Hakuna Matata. It means ‘no worries’" (Image: The RFU Collection via Getty Ima)

Our free email newsletter sends you the biggest headlines from news, sport and showbiz

Sign upWhen you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. OurPrivacy Noticeexplains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.Thank you for subscribingWe have more newslettersShow meSee ourprivacy noticeInvalid Email

Maro Itoje aims to become Lion King by taking inspiration from Disney's film of the same name.

The England star today takes on Irish rival James Ryan with both men high on the bookies’ shortlist to captain the Lions against the world champion Springboks next summer.

Itoje’s path to South Africa is complicated by the fact he has no top level club rugby this season – and no idea when he will even play for relegated Saracens.

He admits to shocking himself when looking at this weekend's opening round of Premiership fixtures and being unable to find his club.

Read More
Related Articles

  • Eddie Jones throws gauntlet down to Ireland's 'United Nations' ahead of Twickenham showdown

Disney's Lion King (above) featuring (below) Simba, Pumbaa and Timon
(Image: Disney)

(Image: Disney)

“I was like ‘where’s Saracens?’.. I forgot that we were down!” he said. “I don’t really know when we’re going to be back playing.”

The Rugby Football Union has in fact pencilled in a start date of January 16 for the second-tier Championship.

That means for the next two months Itoje must rely on England to keep himself in the shopwindow, starting this afternoon at Twickenham. But he insists he won't panic.

Read More
Related Articles

  • Ollie Lawrence keeps England place to face Ireland in Eddie Jones' "strongest possible" team

Ireland captain James Ryan
(Image: Zuma Press/PA Images)

“I’m at peace,” he said. “I don’t know if you ever watched Lion King but Timon and Pumbaa had a saying called Hakuna Matata. It means ‘no worries’.

“I feel with this type of thing, where you have no control over the outcome and no control over the planning process, you should try as much as possible just to let it figure itself out and not lose any sleep worrying or being anxious about X, Y or Z.”

Armed with that attitude, the 26-year-old will throw himself at Ireland intent on keeping England on track for a place in next month’s Nations Cup final.

Read More
Related Articles

  • George Ford puts England on GREEN alert despite no Sexton or Murray in Ireland team

Itoje will not play a Championship game before Jan 16 at the earliest
(Image: Getty Images)

“My goal is to be the best player I can be, to continually improve and push the boundaries of what I can do and where I can go,” he said.

“We know that the intensity is about to ramp up but my game is based around physicality and work rate and I think there is definitely room for me to get better.”

Itoje’s approach is mirrored by club mate Billy Vunipola, who said: “We want Ireland to know that we’re not taking this as just another game.

Read More
Related Articles

  • Billy Burns helped win England a World Cup – now he aims to knock them out of the Nations Cup

Billy Vunipola: 'There's a quiet confidence about us'
(Image: Getty Images)

“We know they’re going to come out firing, (Ireland coach) Andy Farrell knows when to pump the boys' tyres up and when to challenge them.

“They’ve picked a big pack. They want to see if they can negate the advantages from our scrum and mauls and breakdown. It’s a nice challenge for us and one that excites a lot of the boys up front.

“You might not see it or hear it but the way the boys are carrying themselves you can see there's a quiet confidence about us, as well as a bit of nervous energy which is never a bad thing.”

England defence coach John Mitchell
(Image: PA)

England have adopted a ‘bring it on’ mindset as much as anything to fire themselves up after two low-key outings against Italy and Georgia.

“Ultimately the team that's most cohesive, gets in first and wins the big moments, gives themselves the best opportunity,” said defence coach John Mitchell.

"We're looking forward to whatever they chuck at us. We're ready."

ENGLAND: Daly; Joseph, Lawrence, Slade, May; Farrell (capt), Youngs; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler; Itoje, Launchbury; Curry, Underhill, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Dunn, Genge, Stuart, Hill, Earl, Robson, Ford, Malins.

IRELAND: Keenan; Earls, Farrell, Aki, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson-Park; Healy, Kelleher, Porter; Roux, Ryan (capt); Stander, O'Mahony, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, E Byrne, Bealham, Henderson, Connors, Murray, B Burns, Stockdale.