Jamie George has the toughest job in world rugby – trying to eject England captain Dylan Hartley from a team he has led to 13 successive victories, including a Six Nations Grand Slam and historic series triumph in Australia.
Rather than being cowed by the challenge, George, the burly Saracens hooker, has maintained the pressure on Hartley and took over from the England captain 58 minutes into Saturday’s 37-21 win over Australia. George also replaced Hartley in the 51st minute against Fiji and Argentina and the 56th in the win over South Africa.
George is part of what Jones calls his “ finishers” which, to anyone else, would be the guys sitting on the replacements bench. However, the head coach has hammered home his belief that England cannot become the best team in the world unless they have an outstanding 23 man match squad who can either hold onto a lead or help create one in the final quarter.
For George, whose 12 caps have all come from the bench, that requires a different mind-set and one that he is comfortable with thanks to Saracens established rota system which promotes the mantra that no one is indispensable.
George fully understands his current place in the England scheme of things, but that has not dulled his desire to earn the starting role and impressing for Sarries as they defend their Premiership and European Champions Cup double now becomes his main focus. The 26-year-old has an outstanding chance of joining Hartley on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand where his mobility and excellent handling skills will be invaluable.
Holders Sarries face Sale at Allianz Park on Saturday, unbeaten at the top of Pool 3 in the Champions Cup and George said:” From a personal point of view I just wanted to be involved as much as possible and only entered the international fray in the 2015 World Cup camp and managed to find my way into the squad.
“ The encouraging sign is the amount of time I got in the Autumn series and the minutes on the pitch shows the confidence from the coaching staff and I am happy with that. I have to make sure I make the most of the opportunities I am given.
“ The positive thing for us is that we are progressing every week and are adapting on the field. That shows good leadership and the best teams find a way to win. The really encouraging this is that this England team still has a long way to go and hopefully , I will be part of that because it is going to be something special.
“Now, it is the European Champions Cup defence and it has been nice to catch up with the guys at Sarries. It is going to be tough and we always feel under pressure. Everyone knows it is going to take a big push for us to have similar success this season in the Premiership and the Cup.”
Like England for the win over Australia, Sarries go into the Sale match without powerhouse No8 Billy Vunipola who will be out for three weeks following a cartilage operation. It means the rest of the pack will have to deliver the ball carrying that has made Vunipola such a force and that is why Sarries signed 24-year-old Will Skelton, the 6ft 8ins, 22st Wallaby lock on a short term contract this week.
George admitted: “It is a huge loss and while it is great to have George Kruis and Maro Itoje back from injury, Billy has been one of the best players in the world and it is a privilege to play with him. But, like England, we have a strong culture at the club and have some hard working and physical guys who will come in. It is exciting to be back and to get involved with those boys.”
as seen in the Evening Standard