England v South Africa – Positive energy is all that really matters to Maro Itoje

England's Maro Itoje. Picture: David Davies/PA
England's Maro Itoje. Picture: David Davies/PA
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Maro Itoje is willing to do whatever it takes to help England topple South Africa as he defends the mock try celebration that divided opinion in the game.

Itoje will line up in Eddie Jones’s pack for the autumn opener at Twickenham on Saturday as the countdown to the 2019 World Cup begins in earnest.

The Saracens lock captured headlines on October 14 when he taunted Glasgow’s players as they celebrated a ‘try’ that was disallowed. It was an incident that was condemned as disrespectful by some, while others viewed it as adding to the entertainment value of the occasion.

“When I play rugby I go out there to do whatever I can to help my team win,” Itoje said.

Reflecting on the mock celebration, Itoje added: “That just happened, it’s not as if I went into the game to celebrate like that. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

“It just happened, but most of my energy is doing what I perceive my role to be in order to get a positive result for the team. And that is where most of my energy will be geared towards.”

Itoje’s Saracens and British and Irish Lions team-mate Jamie George started all three Tests in the 2-1 series defeat by the Springboks in June and knows what is coming at Twickenham this weekend.

“I’d say it’s pretty full-on, especially against South Africa,” George said.

“They’re such a physical team from one to 15 – no matter who they pick they pride themselves on that. We’re very aware of that and we’re also aware that our intent can never be questioned. We’re going to go out there and rip into it and put our physical stamp on the game.

“We’re very aware that we want to start with a bang. We’re aware of what previous results are, but don’t think of it as putting more pressure on us.”

Veteran hooker Schalk Brits adds a vital feel-good factor to South Africa, according to team-mate Duane Vermeulen.

Back-rower Vermeulen hailed 37-year-old Brits’s remarkable U-turn on his summer retirement ahead of Saturday’s encounter with England.

Brits called time on a glittering nine-year career at Saracens at the end of last term, insisting he was hanging up his boots for good. But South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus has convinced him to reverse that call and push on towards the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

And Vermeulen believes the Springboks’ second-oldest player of all time still boasts his “hyperactive” nature.

“He’s an awesome team man, he just brings a different atmosphere and environment to the team,” said Vermeulen.

“And I think sometimes when some guys aren’t selected, he’s the guy that really lifts the spirits.

“And so for him saying he’s retiring and coming back again, it really speaks volumes, just to be a part of this.

“If he plays or even if he doesn’t play, he’s a guy that brings a hell of a lot of energy to this team.”