George shows stamina to last pace and keep Hartley on sidelines
Saracens hooker passes his audition to signal possible changing of the guard for England, says Kate Rowan
One of the most telling moments in England’s strong second half, in which they put Australia to the sword, did not even happen on the pitch. Just after 50 minutes an image of Dylan Hartley pedalling furiously on an exercise bike on the sidelines was beamed up to the Twickenham big screen.
At that point, it was very telling that Jamie George was not going to make way early in the half.
The fact that George’s first England start in a major Test ahead of Hartley under the Eddie Jones regime lasted until after the 70-minute mark could, to those outside the England camp, signal a changing of the guard. Tighthead prop and man of the match Kyle Sinckler very much stole the headlines in terms of the front-row performance, with his lung-busting runs to gain England territory, but in what could be regarded as George’s prolonged audition, the hooker put in a solid performance. There was certainly a lot more subtlety to it than Sinckler’s efforts, but the most important thing for George was that England dominated the set-piece.
When George came on as a replacement for Hartley against New Zealand two weeks ago, the Saracens man’s throwing was wonky at the best of times and played a part in the line-out woes that would eventually contribute to England’s downfall.
Against the Wallabies, George looked much more confident throwing in, while his scrummaging, along with Ben Moon and Sinckler, was solid. They looked like a front row that had been starting together all autumn, rather than one where players had been moving in and out.
In many ways, since his dominant form during the British and Irish Lions’ drawn series against the All Blacks, George has been a victim of his own success. Having played through the June tour to South Africa, while Hartley was out with concussion, after a gruelling club season with Saracens on the back of the Lions tour, the player had looked in recent months to have lost the dynamism in the loose and perhaps a little confidence, as was apparent in the meeting with the All Blacks. It would seem that slight lapse in form had been down to fatigue.
But against a twitchy and at times – particularly in the second half – distracted-looking Wallabies, George proved he had the gas in his tank to stay the pace and complete his role at set-piece time with aplomb. It was the sort of solid unseen work that can fade compared with attention-grabbing performances such as Sinckler’s, or those from wing Joe Cokanasiga and full-back Elliot Daly.
One area where George seemed to be strong outside of the set-piece was in defence. He looked to enjoy taking on Australian backs such as Dane Haylett-Petty as part of John Mitchell’s new-look double-hit defensive system. He also acquitted himself well in the first half after Ben Te’o was intercepted by Will Genia and put in a strong defensive effort rushing to stop the Australian attackers.
Solid performance: Jamie George was a dominant figure at the England set-piece