England hooker Jamie George has warned Ireland to expect a “proper contest” when two sides with genuine World Cup-winning ambitions meet in Dublin.
This week’s Aviva Stadium clash will provide a clear pointer as to which of the teams will have the best chance of dethroning New Zealand in Japan.
Ireland are favourites, having beaten the Kiwis in November, but England believe they ought to have defeated New Zealand as well and George insists heading into the Dublin bear pit will hold no fears for a Red Rose side on the up.
George, who will start the Six Nations as England’s premier hooker following the omission of Dylan Hartley, right, told The Rugby Paper: “We played against four good teams in November, beat three of them and thought we should have beaten New Zealand as well.
“We’re in a very good place now and it’s given us a huge amount of confidence knowing we can be up there with the best teams in the world – and that’s what we want to be at the World Cup later this year in Japan. It’s an exciting time to be involved with the first game of the Six Nations being Ireland away.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge; they’re one of the best teams in the world and in very good form. Leinster, Munster and Ulster are playing well in Europe so we know how hard it’s going to be – but we’re happy with where we’re at and it’s going to be a proper contest between two very good teams.”
Having experienced the Aviva roar for both club and country, Saracens man George added: “It’s just incredible – one of the best stadiums I’ve played at in terms of atmosphere.
“I’ve got huge respect for Irish rugby fans and, fair play, they make some noise, which is great. The occasion will be huge, but it’s just about managing that and not losing sight of the job in front of you.”
Having started five of England’s last seven Tests, 32-cap George has reached the point of becoming first choice ahead of Hartley, who will miss the Ireland Test due to an ongoing knee injury, with Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Singleton as back-up.
After starring for the Lions in 2017, George believes he has matured since then and is determined to hold off the challenge from Exeter’s Cowan-Dickie and uncapped Worcester tyro Singleton. George, 28, explained: “I feel I’m in pretty good form. Dylan wasn’t available for South Africa last summer so I got a good opportunity in the jersey and it was nice to be given the responsibility again in the autumn.
“It was one of my best series with England and I’ve come back to Saracens where it’s such a positive environment to keep improving.
“I work very closely with the coaches here to try and get myself as mentally and physically prepared as I can and, overall, I’m in a good place to keep pushing because it’s going to be a huge few months.
“I’ve definitely matured since the Lions. As a professional sportsman you’re constantly looking for the next level. As soon as we came back from the Lions we were straight into Saracens, a big domestic season and then England.
“It doesn’t stop and I’m a competitive person who’s driven to better myself and make the teams I’m involved with better.
“I try not to sit still and reflect, I just try to keep improving – and I have to because the competition within the Premiership is so fierce.”
George embellishes his point, adding: “I feel a lot of people just think about me and Dylan Hartley but the form Luke Cowan-Dickie is in is fantastic.
“I’m very happy for Luke because he’s had a tough run with injuries but he showed how good he was when we played Exeter down there recently.
“I’m very much of a mindset around how I can get better and if I can keep doing that and keep showing (England head coach) Eddie Jones that I’m desperate and hungry to keep improving, I’ll be in the best place to keep that jersey.”
While England will be George’s focus over the next two months, Saracens are again in position to push for Europe and domestic silverware.
Performances have not always been of the ’80-minute’ variety, but George says: “When you’re shooting for the stars, sometimes nothing is ever good enough. We need to be a bit more in the present and enjoy the occasions more.
“We’ve got a big focus on enjoying our rugby now and that’s when we’re at our best. We can’t look too far ahead, but there’s a lot more to come in terms of performance and we want to be involved in those big finals again come May.”
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images
Comments are closed on this article.