Jamie George has confirmed himself as a key pillar for England and Saracens to build around

George’s all-round contribution against Wasps reaffirmed what most of us have known for years: the Saracens forward is the best No 2 in the country

Sam Peters
Sunday 02 December 2018 13:52
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Jamie George scored the match-defining try against Wasps on Saturday
Jamie George scored the match-defining try against Wasps on Saturday

At least it feels as if one debate in English rugby is drawing to a close.

A week after finally usurping Dylan Hartley as England’s starting hooker, and 18 months after starting all three Tests for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand, Jamie George’s all-round contribution against Wasps confirmed what most of us have known for years: the Saracens forward is the best No 2 in the country.

George scored the match-defining try 60 minutes in when he barrelled over in the left-hand corner as the defending champions finally pulled clear of a dogged if uninspiring Wasps side.

The gulf in class, power and direction was evident throughout, but it took the home side an hour to find their stride before stretching clear as their high-quality bench finished the job George and his team-mates started.

A frustrating game, played to the staccato rhythm of JP Doyle’s incessant whistling at the scrum, was made bearable by George’s dynamic contribution, seven days after playing 70 minutes against Australia in England’s best performance of the autumn.

Afterwards, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was unequivocal when asked if he’d swap the 28-year-old for another hooker in the northern hemisphere.

“No,” he simply replied.

George, who has made 25 of his 32 England appearances off the bench with Hartley always preferred by Eddie Jones until last Saturday against the Wallabies, was one of the first names on Warren Gatland’s team-sheet for the Lions against the All Blacks last summer.

With Hartley unfit, he endured a frustrating afternoon against New Zealand last month as England’s line-out suffered collective systemic failure before hitting his straps two weeks later against Australia when promoted for the first time over a fit and available Hartley.

The Saracen is now odds on to start for England during the Six Nations as they begin their countdown to next year’s World Cup in Japan.

George in action against Australia late last month

Like everyone present at Allianz Park on Saturday, George was left frustrated by a horribly messy scrummaging contest.

Doyle initially seemed intent on punishing whichever team was going forward, preventing either team building an attacking platform as the set-piece became an unholy mess neither side could use to their advantage.

Eventually Saracens took the upper hand up front and the rest followed.

A brace of Elliott Daly penalties, one of them a trademark long-range effort from fully 55 metres, in reply to three from Alex Lozowski’s faultless boot saw just three points separate the sides before George’s timely intervention on the hour mark.

Replacement Nick Isiekwe’s interception of Daly’s stray late pass completed a comfortable win for McCall’s men, who are now the only unbeaten side in the Gallagher Premiership after Exeter’s international-free squad lost narrowly to Harlequins on Friday night.

Wasps, who offered little apart from honest endeavour, slip back to fourth after Gloucester’s win over Worcester and are in danger of sliding right back into the pack, despite halting a seven-match losing streak last week against Bristol

“I can’t fault the boys for effort but that’s like patting the milkman on the back for delivering milk,” said Wasps director of rugby Dai Young.

McCall has altogether more reasons to be cheerful.

The Ulsterman wisely rested Owen Farrell on Saturday to prepare the England fly-half for greater battles ahead, beginning with back-to-back European Champions Cup encounters against Cardiff Blues next Sunday.

The fly half was rested for the clash against Wasps

Farrell, who told Saracens medical staff he felt mentally and physically drained last summer, was under the spotlight for all manner of reasons in the autumn and was given last week off to clear his mind and rest his body.

It should prove a wise move. Farrell has much rugby to play in the coming months.

“In Owen’s case it’s not just the playing time he had but the responsibility he had,” McCall said. “We thought it would be a good idea to get him away from rugby for a week and bring him back fresh, more mentally than physically.”

The only negative for Saracens, who have yet to hit their straps domestically or in Europe but still find themselves 20 games deep into an unbeaten run, was the injury suffered to Wales and Lions three-quarter Liam Williams before the game.

Williams has been dogged by hamstring problems in recent times and despite Saracens insisting his withdrawal from Saturday’s game was only “precautionary” he appears highly unlikely to feature against the Blues.

Farrell and George most certainly will. They remain twin pillars for England and Saracens to build their team around.

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