Jamie George has vowed not to change his instinctive style to celebrate things like turnovers and penalties after defending teammate Maro Itoje following his reaction during the British and Irish Lions’ defeat by the Blues.
George will follow in the footsteps of England great Jason Robinson in starting a match for the Lions before doing so for his country when he starts Saturday’s encounter against the Crusaders, but his attentions will be on getting the touring side back to winning ways rather than any personal accolades he has achieved.
The hooker is one of six Saracens players in the squad – including the Premiership-bound Liam Williams – and he starts alongside Mako Vunipola and George Kruis on Saturday. However, it is another close friend in Itoje that George has had to defend in the wake of Wednesday’s loss at Eden Park, with television footage capturing both Itoje and Kyle Sinckler passionately celebrating a penalty in the 72nd minute.
The Lions took the lead with the kick at goal, only to end up under their own posts three minutes later following Ihaia West’s match-winning try, but George has revealed that the player have been coached in a particular way to celebrate small victories like that since an early age, and that they have no plans of changing that.
“We're defending for a long time and it's an important part of the game,” reflected George, who was watching the game on the sidelines. “At Saracens especially, we're told to celebrate the small victories. We often celebrate if we get a turnover because we want to celebrate the effort of the players around us.
“You're putting in a huge amount of effort to try and get the ball back, that's why you defend, isn't it? It was a refereeing decision but it was off the back of all the work our team-mates had done. [Maro] brings a huge amount of energy to people around him and him celebrating that shows he cares.
“It's a huge positive. I've been coached since I was 14 to celebrate stuff like that, so I don't think we're going to be changing anytime soon.”
The clip of the celebrations drew a mixed response, with some claiming the reaction was over the top and disrespectful to their opponents, while others claimed that it was warming to see such passion from players and had only been made to look bad by the fact the Lions then conceded a winning position to suffer defeat.
George does not believe for a second that Itoje’s reaction was in any way aimed to get in the faces of the Blues players, and explained that it is a feeling shared with a number of his English colleagues, if not the Lions squad on the whole.
“Not at all, it's all intrinsic with him,” he added. “He just cares about the team a huge amount and when he reacts like that, it lifts everyone else around him. I think you look at a lot of the English guys I've played with, guys at Saracens, we're very similar in that respect.
“We care for the jersey, we care for the people around us, we care for our families. Those are the people we're representing whenever we go onto the field. Maro is a very proud person, I know that, and that's probably the reason he reacted the way he did and I don't see any issue with it.”
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