Jamie George reveals captaincy inspirations ahead of ‘greatest achievement’ in Six Nations

Jamie George says captaining England will be the greatest achievement of his life  (AFP/Getty)
Jamie George says captaining England will be the greatest achievement of his life (AFP/Getty)

It was hardly an auspicious start to Jamie George’s time as England rugby captain. His first press engagement since taking the role was due to be at the Six Nations launch in Dublin, in the salubrious surroundings of the Guinness Storehouse; Storm Isha had other ideas.

And so it was via the medium of Zoom that George, after a cancelled Sunday flight and fruitless Monday morning seeking alternative forms of transportation, spoke to the assembled press. A technical glitch meant that the hooker was, at least, spared the sight of the weary, windswept faces of the interrogators who had made it across the Irish Sea.

“This is the greatest achievement of my life,” said George with a rosy smile. “Stepping out on the field in [England’s Six Nations opener in] Rome is going to be one of the best moments that I will ever experience.

“English rugby is at such an exciting stage. What we’re seeing is young players kicking on and taking a grip of their team. Northampton, Exeter... they’re backing young players and young players are stepping up and really taking their opportunities.

“You see that in the squad that Steve has named. That excitement, that ability for young players to step up and take a grip of things is very important and something we’ll be encouraging in camp.”

An empty chair had stood in for George alongside Steve Borthwick in the regularly scheduled programming earlier, the hooker probably glad not to hear the platitudes as Borthwick extolled his captaincy virtues. Here, the England head coach explained, was precisely the sort of ebullient character needed to bind a side; a relationships man; a thoroughly affable chap. His permanency in the hooker jersey means that he has the freedom to speak his mind, not fearing falling out of favour – these are good leadership qualities.

Long ago, when George was a young pup, Borthwick was the alpha male at the head of Saracens’ wolf pack. If it has taken the 33-year-old time to ascend to English rugby’s highest playing office, that is perhaps because of the throughline of strong leaders with whom he has worked. Following Borthwick for his club were Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, tone setters and chums; for England, most prominent have been Farrell and Dylan Hartley, who has already extended an offer of advice, having been so key to developing George the player on the international stage.

‘Pressure is a privilege,’ says George (PA)
‘Pressure is a privilege,’ says George (PA)

“Leadership is something I’ve found fascinating for a very long time,” England’s new skipper explained, adding that he’d taken titbits from guest speakers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Gareth Southgate, too.

“Steve was absolutely unbelievable and I’ve been so lucky at Saracens with Brad [Barritt] and Owen [Farrell]. They’re two hugely successful captains and have gone about it in their own way.

“Notably, as well, Rory Best is someone I loved working with on the 2017 Lions tour. I think we see the game in very similar ways. He was one person who has reached out and said that if I ever need anything or want a chat, he’s in London now and then. So I’ll certainly be picking his brains soon.”

The elephant in the room, of course, was the reason that George is captain at all. Had his great mate Farrell not elected to step away from international rugby, it would have been him cursing the wind and zooming in from Hertfordshire, surely ready to press on and guide England into this next World Cup cycle.

The reasons for Farrell stepping away are unique but the scrutiny that comes with being England captain can roll clouds over even the cheeriest soul. George has been a close observer of how the job stressed and strained his predecessor but is hoping to avoid similar pitfalls.

George and his predecessor Farrell have discussed the England captaincy (Getty)
George and his predecessor Farrell have discussed the England captaincy (Getty)

“I’m not hiding away from the fact there is additional pressure and responsibility. I personally think that pressure is a privilege,” he explained.

“I spoke to Owen about it. He was probably one of the first people I told when Steve asked me. That was the natural thing to do because Owen and I are very, very close. In terms of tips – no. The only thing he said to me was that if I needed anything, he is the first person I should call and that he would always be there to have a conversation. That is invaluable to me.

“I will try and stay away from anything written about me personally but I understand the important role we have with the England team, in the media and on social media, connecting with people and with fans.

“At the same time, I’m also hopeful that we’ve learnt a lot of lessons from the Owen situation and a lot of people out there have a better understanding of the reality of life, the reality of professional rugby players. We are all human beings. I’m hopeful for a much more positive environment to be able to work in.”