2019 World Cup
Hosts: Japan Dates: 20 September to 2 November
Coverage: Full commentary on every game across BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

World Cups take time, because the turnaround between games has to allow recovery, and World Cups create time, because there is only so much training even a professional’s body and mind can take.

Into those gaps can come boredom, and mischief, and trouble. There might be computer games, quizzes, box sets. Into the empty hours too can come more intellectual stimulation than you might imagine.

This England rugby team have been enjoying a little in their downtime. They were at it on the open spaces between their hotel and the Toyohira river up in Sapporo on the morning of their opening match against Tonga, and they have spread the field once again here in Tokyo.

On a video posted on his social media platforms, can be seen dismissing his Saracens team-mate Jamie George with a brute of a ball that leaps off a length to produce a catch at short leg.

It’s an impressive delivery, the classic fast bowler’s wicket, but not particularly representative of how the 24-year-old has been relaxing before a match against Argentina that the Pumas’ hooker Agustin Creevy has said will resemble a war.

“A lot of my team-mates have a laugh at my techniques for bowling,” flanker Itoje told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“But sometimes it’s dangerous to underestimate your opponents. And I’m afraid Jamie George underestimated me. And what do you know, he’s been sent packing.

“There’s a lot to do out here. There are also a lot of distractions – you can do 101 different things in each city. For me, I’m here to play rugby, so my preparation gets me in shape.”

That preparation has included listening to political podcasts and reading books on cultural history. Itoje’s politics degree from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies may be in the bag, but the interests have kicked on past.

“I had one or two modules with Japan, mainly about the imperial past, contrasting the Japanese empire with other empires that were around in the West and in Africa, which was really interesting,” says Itoje.

“I’m a big fan of podcasts. I’ve actually just started a new one – The Economist Asks – which is very good.

“I’ve been listening too to Political Thinking with Nick Robinson, I’m a fan of that one. Reasons to be Cheerful with Ed Miliband. Then there’s the Alastair Campbell one which is awesome – very, very good.

“I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair, which is about a black woman’s experience of hair.

“The black woman’s experience of hair is very different to the Western or Caucasian experience of hair, and it goes into racism, it goes into different stereotypes and assumptions that are made. It’s very interesting.”

Maro Itoje at England's official welcome ceremony

Itoje, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the England player chosen to thank their hosts in Japanese at the team’s official welcome in Miyazaki two weeks ago.

While he is modest about how he fared compared to World Rugby chairman and former England skipper Bill Beaumont – “I think my pronunciation was a little bit better than his, but it probably still wasn’t great” – he also sees reflections of his own experiences in the players around him.

“Courtney Lawes is the most Zen in the squad. I’ve never seen a man more chilled out than Courtney,” he adds.

“He never rushes anywhere – always relaxed, always in control. It’s a very nice trait to have.

“I’ll talk about books and big ideas with . He’s pretty political. He’s quite engaged on all those types of things.

“There are also two of our security who have some kind of political history, so most of my conversations are actually with them, to be honest.”

Pumas hooker Creevy has also described England’s style as “boring” in the build-up to a game in which victory would mean almost certain qualification for the quarter-finals for ’ men.

Argentina have not beaten England in their past nine meetings, and George – intimidated less by his opposite number than short-pitched bowling – is sanguine about the pre-match barbs.

“I don’t think we do play boring rugby. I’m not overly surprised that he’s tried to say that – but he’s entitled to his opinion and hopefully we prove him wrong on Saturday.

“I don’t think it’s very justified. I’m sure he’s just trying to rattle us a bit. He’s more than welcome to try.”


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