Jamie George is enjoying one of the most successful periods of his career: a domestic and European double with Saracens complemented by the fact that, since the heartbreaking Six Nations defeat by Wales in Cardiff in February, he has not lost a match in which he has started – for either club or country.
But the England hooker insists international rugby and the cauldron of a World Cup will require a step up even from the mindset that delivered Saracens’ knockout rugby triumphs last season.
“I’m lucky that I play for a relatively successful club and Eddie [Jones] tries to pick our [Saracens] brains but, at the same time, it’s a different environment,” George says. “We’re trying to create something similar [to Saracens], but still our own type of culture. Guys at Saracens are giving their opinions on how they think things should be run but it’s a leadership group from all different clubs.”
England spent last week training in sweltering heat and humidity in Treviso, in north-eastern Italy, to experience conditions similar to those that lie ahead in Japan. While most players struggled with ball-handling in such greasy conditions, for George it was lineout throwing that provided the most strenuous challenge.
“It was difficult. It doesn’t rain too much over there but the ball does get extremely slippery so it was a different type of challenge,” he says. “We didn’t use too many towels, so we didn’t get too much opportunity to dry the balls. It was a tough challenge but one you had to get your head around.”
It has been a coming-of-age four years for George. In the summer of 2015 he had just been drafted into Stuart Lancaster’s preliminary World Cup squad, replacing Dylan Hartley who was left out after picking up a ban that would have ruled him out of the opening match. George made his international debut in one of the two warmup matches in which he featured, and he came off the bench in the dead-rubber walloping of Uruguay following England’s premature elimination from the competition at the pool stage.
As Japan looms in the World Cup cycle he now has a Lions series to New Zealand under his belt, he has become a crucial cog in Saracens’ domestic and European dominance, and he is now England’s undisputed first-choice hooker.
“It’s amazing. My first cap in the pre-World Cup games last time around seems a long time ago. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in English rugby,” says the 28-year-old. “There’s huge excitement and belief amongst the group that we can really do something special.”
The excitement for the World Cup – with England’s first match on 22 September against Tonga – is palpable in George’s every word. But, with consecutive warm-up matches against Wales to come –the first on Sunday at Twickenham – he is not getting ahead of himself.
“Whenever England play Wales it is going to have an edge to it. They are Test matches, playing them home and away, and they are both amazing opportunities to put our best foot forward and right a few wrongs from that game in the Six Nations.”
To do so England need all their experienced international-class players. Thankfully for Eddie Jones the experienced loosehead prop Joe Marler, who played for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham in July, has declared himself available for selection after announcing his retirement in September last year. George knows Marler well from England duty as well as the Lions tour to New Zealand and has nothing but praise for the 29-year-old.
“Whenever Marler’s around, it’s always extremely entertaining. He’s been amazing,” George says. “It seems a long time since he left – a lot has happened. He’s a joker off the field but he’s a calm head on it and has a huge amount of experience. He keeps things nice and calm, adding some key points around the new scrummaging laws. He’s been vital around that. He just wanted to play with me again I think!”