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New Zealand will target British and Irish Lions 'key man' Maro Itoje says Warren Gatland

The Independent logo The Independent 4/05/2017 Sports Staff
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Warren Gatland says New Zealand will target Maro Itoje on this summer's British and Irish Lions Tour but backed his man to have what it takes to stand up to the test.

Saracens and England star Itoje will be the youngest member of the 41-man touring party when the Lions jet out at the end of the month but despite his tender years is expected to be a key man as they look to beat the All Blacks for only the second time in history.

The All Blacks are famed for exploiting any weakness and coach Gatland believes they could look at World Rugby's Breakthrough Player of the Year Itoje's inexperience as one.

"He could be a player they may target, and I'll be interested to see how he responds to that," he told The Telegraph. "They might see him as potentially a key for the Lions and see if they can shut him down, or physically dominate him.

"He's going to have to learn from that."

Gatland said while the All Blacks were known for their open, fast-paced game, many overlooked the contribution of their forwards and their ability to muscle up and turn a game into "a bit of a dogfight".

It was in such moments that Itoje might get targeted, Gatland suspected, but the 53-year-old also felt the tour could be the making of the rangy Saracens player.

"The more he plays the better he's going to get. He's got a massive engine on him and his work-rate is just phenomenal," Gatland added.

"Hopefully we can get him to play a little bit smarter in terms of picking his moments, with that youthful enthusiasm of trying all the time.

"He's just involved in everything. Just looking at him, he will respond to that challenge."

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