- Feature taken from Saturday's matchday programme - buy your copy here
- Listen to George on the England Rugby Podcast here
Jamie George enters a seminal year for English rugby as a key player for his club and country. But, as Will Macpherson of the Evening Standard discovers, George has significant skills to add to his rugby.
“Now I wouldn’t call it a war,” laughs Jamie George, England’s bulldozing hooker.
In a year like this, you probably think you know what he is talking about. England-France? A trip to Cardiff to meet the Welsh? The Calcutta Cup? A Saracens side challenging strongly on two fronts? Then, finally the Rugby World Cup?
But George is not talking about his profession – or at least his current profession. He is talking about a rivalry sparked in November in the hallways of Pennyhill Park, England’s leafy Surrey base.
The two sides? George and Elliot Daly, his great mate and “business partner”, up against the returning, rejuvenated Manu Tuilagi. The subject of their battle? Coffee. Tuilagi spent November schooling teammates on the Pennyhill pool table, but he also spent it pinching George and Daly’s trade.
“Elliot and I always room together whenever we’re in camp,” George explains. “And Elliot is a very good barista. Very good. So we opened a coffee shop in our room. We got a lot of good feedback, and everyone loved it.
“But then Manu, who hadn’t been around the squad for a while, came back in and brought his own machine for a week and started making better coffee. Or so the punters say. So what we’ve seen is a test of loyalty about who cared about our product rather than Manu’s.”
George explains that, while Daly is the man who knows his skinny flat whites from his long macchiatos, the hooker is “the brains behind the operation”. He is a company man, but not one above dishing out hearty praise to his rival: “what I will say about Manu is that he is incredible, very skilled with coffee. He’s got a lovely touch for a big man. But I won’t say he’s better than Elliot. I can’t be saying that.”
Band of brothers
Beyond “getting a bit of caffeine in the lads before a session”, there is something deeper behind all this, that reveals something about George, a true team man with an infectious personality and a sociable streak: he wants to get his teammates together, chatting and mucking about.
“We are in camp for a long time,” he says. “It’s important to try to socialise and connect with guys while we’re there. The easy thing to do would be to go back to your room and watch Netflix and not end up socialising with anyone. With the coffee shop in our room – well, the coffee machine in our room – we’ve managed to bring the boys together. And we’ve got some social capital for ourselves out of it too!”
Quite clearly, George has other skills besides rugby. He describes himself as “a fairweather golfer with a handicap of 15ish… sometimes” and loves a game of cricket. He keeps himself busy with another business venture besides “Café Jinx à la Daly” (as he calls the coffee shop, a nod to his nickname, Jinx).
'Carter & George'
“I’ve got a fitness and physio business called Carter and George, that I run on the side,” he says. “One day a week in one of our days off I will be there, looking at the business aspect of it, which switches me off from rugby.”
Carter is Rhys Carter, George’s best mate since the age of 13. The pair came up with the idea when George visited Carter in Dubai, where he worked as a physio. They hatched a plan for his return.
“I had wanted to be involved in a gym, or rehab centre or something for a while, so we connected the two!” he says. “Our broad model is bringing the elite level care that I get as a professional sportsman to the general public.”
Such a move is not uncommon, especially at Saracens, where, he says “everyone’s an entrepreneur” as players are encouraged to extend their interest beyond the rugby field.
But, of course, rugby comes first.
He enters 2019 aged 28 and in his prime. After a long apprenticeship at Saracens under the watch of a pair of contrasting but outstanding South African hookers, John Smit and Schalk Brits, and, more recently, a competitive partnership with England co-captain Dylan Hartley that has drawn the best from both of them, he has emerged as one of the outstanding No.2s in the world.
George is as busy on the field as he can be off it. A barrelling ball-carrier with a super set-piece who relishes contact and has the speed of thought to be a second ahead, he is a potent cocktail. Three starts for the British and Irish Lions in the drawn series in New Zealand 2017 are testament to that.
“These are the years you play the game for,” he says. “It’s just a massively exciting year. Sarries are in a good position in Europe and domestically, which makes it an amazing time to be at a special club.
“Then, with England, we have this huge Six Nations and a World Cup, the carrot at the end of it all. You have to be physically and mentally prepared, and then to live in the moment. Every game we play
is massive in a year like this, so we are all just calming ourselves down and not looking too far down the line.”
Calming yourself down? What better way to do just that than over a quick coffee and a natter with your mates? Sounds right up George’s street.