George targets lineout success on Test debut

  • Hooker primed for trip to France and set piece challenge
  • George discusses lineout triggers and influence of John Smit

Jamie George will ponder graceful cover drives and heed the advice of a celebrated Springbok on Saturday evening at the Stade de France as he takes his place in a Test match 23 for the first time.

Speaking to the assembled press on Thursday lunchtime, the Saracens hooker was in a charmingly relaxed mood as he discussed a potential England debut in Paris.

Named among the replacements for this weekend’s trip across The Channel, George explained that the primary priority would be to solidify the scrum and lineout – two areas put under great pressure by Les Bleus ‚Äčlast time out.

While a significant individual honour is in the offing, that collective goal took precedence for the 24 year-old.

“I want to make the most of the occasion and enjoy it as best I can,” he said. “At the same time, I know what my job is within the team.

“We’ve put a big emphasis on the set piece this week and I’m in the middle of that, so when the opportunity does come I’ve got to make sure I’m as accurate as I can be.”

Despite seeing his side go down 19-14, Philippe Saint-André will have been pleased with his forwards’ efforts as he left Twickenham five days ago.

Indeed, while George acknowledged the need to “make a few tackles and get his hands on the ball” in the loose, the lineout resurfaced as a fundamental battleground for this next instalment of Le Crunch.

Alternating with starter Tom Youngs during training this week, the international rookie has had plenty of practice drilling his throws. But George is no ordinary first-capper.

In over 100 appearances for Saracens since graduating from the club’s Academy five years ago, he has featured in many high-stakes European clashes – a quarter-final win at Racing 92 and a semi-final defeat to Clermont during last season’s Champions Cup among them.

Detailing the specific psychological demands of feeding a lineout, George was extremely articulate. Having worked with specialist coach Simon Hardy since his time in the junior ranks, he has developed a steadfast routine.

Revolving around George’s love for cricket – his roommate at Haileybury College was England One-Day International batsman Sam Billings – it will help him deliver from his first throw.

“I’ve prepared for moments like this for a long time. I’ve worked with Simon Hardy for around the last 10 years. We’ve played a lot of mind-games because that side of throwing is important, but you’ve got to take yourself out of the occasion.

“I like to think of being in my bedroom, with nothing else coming into that bubble. Golfers call it their happy place.

“A lot of things go on in a rugby game but throwing is a closed skill. It’s a difficult skill and there is a lot that comes with it – it’s not just physical, so you have to block off everything else that is going on in the game.

“I think of just being in my bedroom and my trigger word is ‘cricket’ – I’m a big cricket fan. The best cricketers play a shot and hold their pose afterwards. That looks pretty classy so it’s a buzzword in my mind.

“That’s it really. You can overthink it but when you’re there it comes naturally in my mind.”

Hailing the calm advice of Youngs and outlining his respect for imminent opponents Guilhem Guirado and Benjamin Kayser – “notoriously physical” players – George moved onto another pair of hookers that have helped guide him towards an England bow.

South Africa internationals John Smit and Schalk Brits are huge favourites of the Saracens faithful, the former featuring for two seasons after joining in 2011 and the latter approaching a sixth campaign having arrived in 2009.

George has benefitted from the presence of both men, and highlighted his continued relationship with 111-cap Springbok Smit.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him. While he was at Saracens he could have easily been there focussing on himself but the amount of time he put in to me is something I’ll be forever grateful for. He sent me a message this week to say congratulations – he’s a brilliant bloke.

“The amount of technical knowledge he has is unbelievable so I tried to be like a sponge to soak up as much information as I could. He always used to say to me to be my own player. 

“Starting professionally I was with Schalk – he’s a brilliant role-model in himself but as a player he is one of a kind. I couldn’t try to be like him.

“When John came along I maybe tried to be like him for a bit before realising I needed to be my own player and my own person. Now I feel as though I’m a better player off the back of that.”

Saturday represents the last opportunity for Stuart Lancaster to see his charges in action before naming a final 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.

However, though evidently eager to make an impression, level-headed George suggested such thoughts would be far from his mind.

“I’ve really tried to switch off from that because it’s such a big occasion for me.

“I’m fully aware that I need to put in a big performance for the team. The rest [selection] is out of my control.”