Jamie George: This England team is ‘staggeringly’ athletic

jamie george: this england team is ‘staggeringly’ athletic

Jamie George is excited by the emerging England talent - Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Jamie George believes the current England squad is the most athletic he has been part of and insists such dynamism can counteract a lack of international experience against Japan and New Zealand.

George, who has retained the captaincy, is one of several veterans within Steve Borthwick’s 36-man group for the tour, which comprises a rendezvous with Eddie Jones in Tokyo before a two-Test series against the All Blacks.

Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Henry Slade are among the experienced cohort, too. However, precisely half of the touring party – 10 backs and eight forwards – boast fewer than 10 caps. George, though, insists that sheer athleticism and success at Premiership level can stand England in good stead for a fascinating set of fixtures.

“Honestly, it’s staggering at times when you are on the training field and seeing some of the things those guys are doing, the athletes we have,” said the hooker. “A lot has been said about the age profile of the team and experience, but a lot of those guys have won trophies at domestic level.

“The step up [to international level] is a step up, and it is what it is, but there is excitement and momentum that everyone can bring off the back of what, in my eyes, has been one of the best Premiership seasons, the highest standard there has been for a long, long time. We have got to use that momentum and drive that into bringing good performances over the next few weeks.”

Borthwick has assembled a stark mixture of youth and know-how, with the back row contingent emblematic of his desire for speed. Travelling with both Curry twins, Ben and Tom, as well as Sam Underhill and Ben Earl, England should not lack for mobility. George name-checked Earl as well as the uncapped Ollie Sleightholme and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, a pair of explosive wings, as team-mates to have caught the eye in training.

“Ollie Sleightholme, I met him for the first time,” added George. “I have played against him a lot. It is incredible how fast he is. In small side-games, it is scary seeing how pacey he is. Manny Feyi-Waboso is the same.

“In the forwards, Ben Earl is changing the way back row is played at the minute. We have got great players; it is about making sure we are all very clear how we play as England and we are very clear about how we want to take Japan on and move forward to New Zealand.”

Earl, who has now accumulated 30 caps since his debut under Jones in 2020, consolidated his excellent 2023 World Cup with a fine Six Nations earlier this year. Last week, Borthwick suggested that the 26-year-old had emerged as “a senior leader”. The England head coach also highlighted the “athleticism and dynamism” of “a different type of team”. Earl’s speed from the base of the scrum has been a hallmark of recent years and George was confident that his Saracens colleague will continue to progress as a potential duel with Ardie Savea comes into view.

“What he does in space, you could easily see him playing international rugby with a 12 or 13 on his back,” George said of Earl. “He is that sort of player. There is his skill level, his speed but it is also the tough stuff he does. We are lucky to have him in the forwards but I don’t know if there are any back rows like him in the world at the minute.

“We will probably play against a few of them in the next few weeks – you would probably put Ardie Savea in that category. But there are some really good players across the board in this camp and it is a really good time to be involved.”

Before they reach New Zealand for matches in Dunedin and Auckland, England meet a familiar foe in Japan and Aled Walters, their conditioning guru, has been preparing players for energy-sapping encounters in intense heat. George warned that Jones “gets his teams right for big games, and this is a huge game for him”, stressing that Borthwick’s predecessor will “have a really good plan in terms of how to break us down”.

“When he speaks about Japanese rugby, he speaks a lot about moving the ball, playing a fast game at a high tempo, so I think that’s probably something that we can look to,” said George of Jones. “But, at the same time, who knows with Eddie? He’s a bit of a master of his craft, isn’t he?”

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