After his first test match as England captain, Jamie George is relishing in the national pride that comes seamlessly with their upcoming battle with Wales. However, George recognises also that England need to rebuild the once formidable fortress of Twickenham, following a poor run of home results heading into last year’s Rugby World Cup.
Steve Borthwick’s side set for their first match at home since the Summer defeat to Fiji. This first-time defeat to the Pacific Islanders was the culmination of a disappointing stint of home form, that also witnessed the record Twickenham defeat against France in the 2023 Six Nations. Add in an ill-disciplined and narrow win over Wales, that witnessed England drop to 12 men at one stage, and England’s recent form in their home stadium has been far from textbook.
Jamie George certainly recognises this, and wants to move his new generation England side forward as they prepare to witness first renditions of ‘swing low, sweet chariot’. Speaking in a mid-week media scrum, George spoke poignantly about how his team are ready make Twickenham a revered place to visit once again.
“I think, first and foremost, we identified that, we’re very clear that our win rate at Twickenham hasn’t been good enough. You know, the stats show that I think there are obviously reasons why that might be the case. We’ve looked into that.
“But then secondly, I think we don’t need to worry too much about what’s happened in the past, there is a different feel to this team. There are a lot of new faces, and we want to make sure that we build a different experience at Twickenham. We want, not just for us as players, but our families and friends and everyone else sat in the stands to so yes, we’re aware of that.
“I think we’ve done some great things and built towards something once we got to France, throughout the World Cup. So I think you know, you can always reflect back on the history but ultimately, we’re looking at the here and now you know, we’ve got an opportunity to sort of put a marker down and make a statement about who we want to be on, and what English rugby wants to be about going forward.”
George reflected throughout the week, following a victorious opening round in the 2024 Six Nations. The Saracen took no time to rest after touching down from Rome, with the Italians in the rear-view mirror, and the squad’s full focus being on this week’s mission: how can England turn Twickenham back into the ‘fortress’ it used to be?
“We spoke about that on Monday.” George said. “It was interesting because a meeting for us on a Monday, a post-travel day, you would have thought we would be speaking about game-plan. We did touch on game-plan during the day but in the evening it was solely around Twickenham and the emotion around this game, which really set the tone nicely for us for the week.
“So there are a few different things that we’ve spoken about, like I said to you before, in meetings previously, the alignment camps while we were still with our clubs, there are different ideas around what we want to do, we fed those back to, you know, the powers that be, and a few of them have been taken on board, which is great.
“But I also think ultimately, as players we’ve got a responsibility to put the performance onto the field and put in a performance that people are proud of. If we do that, then that’s the sort of environment that we want Twickenham to be.”
‘Emotion’ was a key phase of the conference, with George explaining that each of his teammates channel the enormity of the occassion in different ways. Whilst some prefer to get fired up with outward bursts of excitement, others prefer to confide within themselves and seclude away from the fray, with their headphones on and hoodies up.
No matter the preference, the England team all band together ahead of kick-off for some final words from George, with their adrenaline set to reach a fever pitch. George explained how the England boys have been feeling ahead of the weekend, as the age-old rivalry against Wales is set to be revived for it’s latest chapter.
“Emotion is used by different people in many different ways. How it motivates you can be family, it can be the history. It’s being able to tap into all of that and knowing that the more people we encourage to speak about their experiences of this game and their experiences of playing at Twickenham, you touch on a bit of everything.
“My emotion about this game could be entirely different to Joe Marler’s or Danny Care’s or Manny Feyi-Waboso’s. We’ve been trying to be as open, honest and engaging as we can to touch on all of those pieces.”
“A lot gets spoken about Wales, and how much it means to them. A message from me, not just in Wales week but last week as well, is that we should never shy away from how much it means for us to play for England and what this fixture means to us. We’ve been pretty clear on that. We had a meeting on Monday about not just necessarily England-Wales but how amazing it is to be back at Twickenham.
“Some of the senior guys spoke really well about the opportunities they’ve had, how special it is to play in front of friends and family. That sets the tone for the week. We’ve had a mixed bag against Wales previously.
“We’ve got things right, we’ve been maybe too emotive early in the week. The best weeks that I’ve had in preparation for Wales are when we’ve built up the emotion throughout the week. You touch on it in little parts. We’ve done that pretty well this week. Ultimately, it’s about how you back it up on the training field and then get prepared for Saturday.”
George then highlighted how his pride reaches its culmination, as he walks out to the pitch, and turns to face the crowd for the national anthem. Looking out into a sea of fans waving England flags is an unforgettable image for the England captain, and admits that he likes to savour every moment. However, some of his England teammates, namely an iconic prop forward, view the national anthem as an opportunity to showcase their eloquent singing voices.
“Messaging for the team is to feel however they want to feel. I’ve played in teams where we’ve been told to be perceived one way or another. If you want to smile through the anthem… Joe Marler sings his like an opera singer, which if you get the opportunity to watch him it is hilarious.
“The people on either side of him are laughing more often than not. For me it’s going to be a very emotional moment and will be very special at Twickenham. We get three tickets for our family, who we will be facing directly at the anthems – that will mean a lot to me. I will see some of my family there, and that’s an amazing moment, a very emotional moment. It brings a smile to my face thinking about the walk-out, also.”
Despite Marler’s antics, there is no understating the tensions that are rising over the Severn Bridge. Wales captain Dafydd Jenkins has already spoke on how passionate he is to get the win over England, and Warren Gatland’s recent media discussion on Cardiff-born Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s decision to play for England instead of Wales, has only added fuel to the dragon’s fire.
Yet contrastingly, an Englishman’s approach to this Anglo-Welsh battle is often less reported in colourful proverbs of blazing embers and brimstone. George gave a passionate insight into his thoughts on the Wales test, and how the rivalry is well and truly burning bright from the England camp.
“I don’t think we want to replicate anything (Welsh motivation), we want to do things our way. We can build emotion and motivation through different ways. Something we have talked about a lot as a group is passion and not being afraid to show passion. First and foremost, the emotion in a game is important. It resonates with people because it allows you to show them how much it means to you to play for England.
“I’ve certainly been encouraging of that this week. If people want to use that passion and emotion, as long as we are controlled and clear about what we are doing rugby-wise, I don’t see why we shouldn’t do that.
“But I don’t think we want to replicate that (Welsh motivation for this fixture) – I don’t think we are ever going to try to do things another team’s way. We want to be authentic and if you feel in a position to use that emotion and show that emotion then please do it.”
“That’s why I love the Six Nations. I don’t think that has changed in my time certainly. I’m a massive rugby fan; I’ve grown up watching the Six Nations and I’ve listened to interviews where people are talking about England-Wales, England-Ireland, England-Scotland. For me, that edge is certainly there. I am expecting a big edge this weekend. We are very ready for that and very clear about how we want to take that edge away from Wales.”
Looking at the Wales camp, George can bring some insider knowledge as to how this weekend’s opponents may structure their approach, due to the familiarity with head coach Warren Gatland. George, and a litany of the England players, have been coached by Gatland throughout various British & Irish Lions tours, with the hooker even captaining Gatland’s side in the non-test fixtures against the South African club sides in 2021.
“Our attention to detail is something that is very clear to see. When you go on those Lions tours, you pick up general trends from each player. Something we speak about a lot is our fight and the fact we never give up. I’d like to think that they’ve taken that from us and they can see that in an England team.
“There’s always a balance of analysing opposition and being very clear about what we want to do. So like, if a lot of us in this team have worked with Warren Gatland before, we sort of know the type of coach he is.
“We look at the game last week in terms of what Scotland did really well against them in the first half, and how they probably let their foot off the gas, if we’re completely honest in the second, and it was impressive what Wales were able to do, we obviously will look at opportunities in ways that we can try and nullify that.
“We’re going to be very clear about what our defence is, we don’t change our offences based on an attack, we’re going to try and be very aggressive and confrontational. And that’s exactly the way that Felix wants us to be. But we also want to try and be aggressive and confrontational when we have the ball as well.”
Pivoting from the past, George turned his attention to the new-look Wales squad that have ushered in a new era following the Rugby World Cup. George will be going toe-to-toe with Jenkins at the captains coin-toss, and admitted that he will in fact miss the former Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones. The Saracen then gave his verdict on what he expects this Welsh side to bring, ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s battle that is brimming with passion and pride.
“I think I’ll certainly miss Alun Wyn! I think you always have got to use your experience. They’ve got some guys who haven’t played a huge amount of test rugby in their side, but like us we also have got a few of those guys. They’ve got guys who have been around it for a long time, George North coming back into the team for them, who are a big on that.”
George closed out the preview of England’s return to their apex amphitheatre, by re-calling the most hostile atmosphere he has experienced away from home. The front rower identified Ireland’s Aviva Stadium as a challenging place to go, and wants Twickenham become a similarly imposing ground in it’s own right, starting from when Wales come to town.
“I think the most intimidating atmospheres come off the back of the most intimidating teams. For example some of our toughest games have been at the Aviva, away in Ireland. The Irish fans seem to really love when the ball goes up in the air for a contestable kick. They love it when a maul gets formed. That can be pretty intimidating at times.
“I think the identity of the Irish team is very clear for every Irish fan to see. If we want to be the the type of team we want to be and create an intimidating environment to play in at Twickenham then first and foremost we have to be the sort of team that we want to be. We want to be physical, we want to be confrontational, we want to be aggressive. I think that engagement with the fans will be very clear.
“We don’t want to replicate other places or other teams. We want to try to do things our way. I think so far in terms of the feedback we have had from friends, family, fans, you guys, it has been a positive one in terms of what we want to do. I think there’s going to be a great buy-in and a great atmosphere at Twickenham. Now the responsibility is on us as players to go and back that up. “