Jamie George is this summer’s first choice British Lions hooker-in-waiting and must be given the chance to prove it by starting for England ahead of Dylan Hartley, according to former Red Rose No.2 George Chuter.
Chuter, a World Cup finalist with England in 2007, describes George as being “head and shoulders above” Hartley and insists the Saracens man should now be at the forefront of Lions boss Warren Gatland’s thinking for New Zealand.
Chuter told The Rugby Paper: “Dylan Hartley is seen as a captain and a leader, but in terms of rugby Jamie George is now head and shoulders above him and he’s the best English hooker by quite a considerable distance now.
“Dylan has a role to play and Eddie Jones thinks that, but I question whether he’s the best option anymore because, for me, Jamie is far more accomplished around the field, is a better thrower and is certainly a better scrummager.
“Jamie’s really come on and the way Saracens have handled him has been excellent. He learned from Schalk Brits and John Smit, bided his time when another player could have lost his rag and he’s in a really strong position now.
“He picked those people’s brains when it would have been easy for him to sulk at not playing and not interact at all. So he’s on target to start for England and, being honest, on current form I don’t get what Eddie sees in Hartley.”
While George will still be considered a long shot to start for the Lions, ex-Leicester star Chuter rates the 26-year-old as better than Ireland’s Rory Best, who is contesting the Lions captaincy along with Hartley and Alun Wyn Jones.
Chuter added: “I’ve got a lot of time for Rory and he’s been a fantastic player, but he didn’t cover himself in glory against Scotland last week.
“Warren Gatland’s a former hooker who knows the position and, hopefully, he’ll see something in Jamie George’s game that suits how he wants the Lions to play in New Zealand. If that’s the case, he’s in with a very good shout.
“I’ve got Jamie down as my Lions starter and he deserves a chance to prove it.”
With England boss Jones suggesting recently that Hartley’s tenure as England captain may be temporary, Chuter is backing Tommy Taylor, of Wasps, and Exeter tyro Luke Cowan-Dickie to pile additional pressure on the skipper.
“It’s a great situation for Eddie to have so many people keeping Hartley on his toes,” Chuter said.
“Cowan-Dickie’s a fantastic prospect, but his issue is just keeping fit. When he plays a string of games he looks very accomplished but, unfortunately, we haven’t seen the best of him yet which is opening the door for others.
“Taylor’s an excellent player who’s come on leaps and bounds this year at Wasps. He was a good prospect at Sale but he’s really stepped up into that top echelon of Premiership hookers now and could be given a chance.”
Meanwhile, Chuter, now coaching Loughborough Students, is preparing to advance his coaching career after agreeing to become head coach of National Two North outfit Hinckley next season.
Chuter, 40, said: “I’m happy dealing with the management side and I see it as a good move up.
“The buck will stop with me and it’ll be a good challenge, and with it being part-time I can continue to work with Loughborough.”