Tuesday 22 October 2019

Glorious George proves he's the best No 2 around

Saracens 56  Glasgow 27

Saracens' David Strettle scores a try during the European Champions Cup quarter final against Glasgow. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Saracens' David Strettle scores a try during the European Champions Cup quarter final against Glasgow. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Gerard Meagher

On afternoons like this it is easy to forget just how long Jamie George had to wait for his first England start - that he was named as a replacement 19 times before getting hold of the England No 2 jersey, more than two years after his debut, and that he made three starts for the Lions before he did so once for his country.

For here was further evidence that, if Dylan Hartley ends up being part of Eddie Jones's World Cup squad, he will not do so as England's first-choice hooker.

Put simply, George was magnificent, covering every blade of artificial turf. He had a hand in three of Saracens' first four tries as well as running a flawless lineout before coming up with a close-range score of his own. And do not doubt the impact he had on his side in terms of leadership after Saracens were shorn of Owen Farrell so soon before kick-off with his wife in labour.

At 28, George is a senior member of this side and one of the loudest voices. Watch him during a break in play and he is constantly giving out instructions, demanding more of his side. He does not quite perform that role for England yet, perhaps a knock-on effect of spending so long in Hartley's shadow. He was, however, one of England's most consistent performers during the Six Nations and Jones, in attendance here, must learn to trust him as one of his key on-field lieutenants before the World Cup.

Saracens' Nick Tompkins scores his side's sixth try. Photo: Reuters
Saracens' Nick Tompkins scores his side's sixth try. Photo: Reuters

When he finally made way, with seven minutes to go, Saracens had hit 50 points, Glasgow had been ruthlessly dismantled, yet still George was barking orders, getting his message across. If the double tackle by Alex Lozowski and Max Malins on Stuart Hogg typified Saracens' victory, so too did George's performance - ruddy-cheeked and relentless.

It was not a perfect start for Saracens, far from it, with Glasgow moving ahead with a delightful try, swiftly moving the ball from a lineout on the right, before Ali Price went over.

The Saracens huddle formed immediately and George was at the centre. There was an inevitability about the outcome when Saracens hit back as quickly as they did and credit must go to Alex Goode, stepping in so seamlessly with Farrell absent. He often fills in at out-half and here he was regularly putting boot to ball, along with Ben Spencer, to cause the Warriors problems in the air.

It gave Saracens a way back into the match, Goode chipping cleverly with advantage for Liam Williams's first try, and it gave the home side the platform to establish their commanding lead with two more tries before the interval, with George heavily involved in both. First, he zipped a miss-pass to David Strettle to go over in the right corner and then freed Lozowski, who in turn released Brad Barritt.

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If it was a shock that there were no afters between these two sides until just before half-time, it was certainly no surprise that George was in the thick of it for Saracens.

He had been everywhere else in the opening 40 minutes. He picked up from where he left off in the second, thundering into his side's first tackle of the half and just a few minutes later came up with a key turnover. He got the try his performance deserved before making way to rapturous applause.

Saracens' Jamie George in action with Glasgow Warriors' Jonny Gray. Photo: Reuters
Saracens' Jamie George in action with Glasgow Warriors' Jonny Gray. Photo: Reuters

George is a consistent performer for Saracens but what set him apart here was his ability to pop up in midfield, throwing dummies and fizzing accurate passes, or finding himself out on the wing, as he did to tee up Williams's second early in the second half.

When hookers wearing a different shade of black do this kind of thing they are often lauded as the second coming. The hope for England must be that it continues to be seen in white.

Scorers - Saracens: Williams 2, Strettle 2, Barritt, George, Tompkins tries; Lozowski 6 cons; Lozowski 3 pens. Glasgow: Price, G Horne, M Fagerson tries; Hastings 3 cons, 2 pens.

Saracens: L Williams; S Maitland, A Lozowski, B Barritt, D Strettle; A Goode, B Spencer; B Barrington, J George, C Judge; W Skelton, G Kruis; M Itoje, J Wray, B Vunipola. Reps: T Whiteley for Spencer (72), T Lamositele for Barrington (50), T Woolstencroft for George (73), V Koch for Judge (50), N Isiekwe for Skelton (50), S Burger for Wray (64).

Glasgow: A Hogg, K Steyn, S McDowall, S Johnson, R Hughes, A Hastings, A Price, O Kebble, F Brown, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Harley, C Gibbins, M Fagerson. Reps: N Matawalu for Hughes (55), G Horne for Price (60), J Bhatti for Kebble (68), K Bryce for Brown (68), S Halanukonuka for Z Fagerson (55), P Horne for Swinson (69), C Fusaro for Gibbins (68).

Ref: Nigel Owens (Wales).

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