England’s celebrations are bittersweet after picking up bronze medal at the Rugby World Cup… as Jamie George declares his side’s latest heartbreak ‘HAS to be used as motivation’
- England beat Argentina to third but lost by one point to champions South Africa
- George said bronze win was important in order to send some legends off well
- He called for more clarity around the central contract situation going forward
It was approaching 1am, three hours after England clinched victory in the third-place play-off, and Jamie George was looking down at his bronze medal. The beads of sweat were still settling on his brow as he attempted to articulate the meaning of it all. ‘It’s motivation,’ he said. ‘It has to be.’
The celebrations were bittersweet. A bottle of Asahi beer in his right hand, his thoughts drifted to where he will find his next one. ‘No Moulin Rouge,’ he quipped, before he began to grapple with the bigger picture of English rugby. Another World Cup, another heartbreak. Four years of graft and all there is to show is a piece of metal no shinier than a two-pence piece. It will sit on his mantelpiece in St Albans and motivate him to do it all over again.
George always adds a dose of realism. He is an optimist by nature but is experienced enough to acknowledge the team’s shortfalls. Bronze is better than anybody expected of this England team, but George has spent his career chasing something bigger.
He spoke of the team’s fight that dragged them out of the abyss of the summer when they were transitioning from their previous coach Eddie Jones to Steve Borthwick, but also recognised the need to improve their attack as they kick off their next four-year cycle.
‘This week has actually been a really difficult week, if I’m completely honest,’ said the hooker. ‘Probably the hardest week of my career. I was sat in my hotel room feeling waves of sadness. I’m still gutted about last week and that is going to take a long time for me to get over.
Jamie George suffered World Cup heartbreak again for England, but has said he will use England’s semi-final loss as motivation
It was all smiles, however, as George and his team-mates picked up a bronze medal on Saturday, after beating Argentina
George said his side coming away with a medal is ‘really important’ amid the retirements of several players
‘To be able to come away with a medal is really important. Sending off some legends of the game in the right way, but it was also important to send that message to the public that we will still fight for everything. We are walking away with a medal, but it’s the wrong colour. It will give us huge inspiration going into the Six Nations.’
With such England stalwarts as Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole, Jonny May and Joe Marler all retiring, George will be one of the most senior figures left standing. He acknowledged the need to get the public on board, after a lukewarm engagement from the fans back home.
Their style has not been easy on the eye. Tries have been in short supply. Their game has been built around set-piece and kicking — improving steadily with Borthwick’s fingerprints all over it — but that alone is not enough to break into rugby’s magic circle.
‘I think our foundations are strong,’ George said. ‘What we’ve done, and the evolution hopefully you guys have seen over this tournament, has shown that we can fight, we can put our best foot forward against the best. Ultimately, we want to be No 1.
‘There’s a lot of hungry young players. You look at the way George Martin performed in the semi-final. It’s scary how good that kid is. At that age, 22, to put a performance in like that is remarkable. There’s a lot of incredible talent in English rugby.‘I think we know the attack needs to evolve. It’s a hugely exciting time and we know that we need to get better, but I think the most important thing now is to celebrate what has been a pretty brutal and fantastic few months. There’s something really special brewing and we just want to make sure we bring the English public on this huge journey with us.’
Courtney Lawes (left) and Ben Youngs (right) are two players that have played their last matches for England
England head coach Steve Borthwick is the man tasked with leading the country’s comeback
Part of that comes down to storytelling. Smile more and learn to take control of the narrative. This is the entertainment business and Borthwick, like a CEO, has a duty to engage with the people. Public enemy No 1? Change the record. Even a kick-fest can be gift-wrapped.
Where Borthwick does excel is in the details. He now has the time to take hold of English rugby and attack it with the rigour of a consultant as the game prepares for a structural overhaul.
England ‘A’ games to develop depth, central contracts to give greater control of players and maybe even an overhaul of the ban on selecting players based in France?
George called for more clarity around England’s central contract situation now the World Cup is over
Asked about the central contract situation, George said: ‘We just need a bit more clarity around it. Obviously there’s a lot of whispers. What I do have is a huge confidence in Steve to make sure we get this right. If those central contracts do come in, then Steve will do it in the absolute right way that does not take away from the club game because that’s something that means a lot to me.
‘I think possibly it could be a great thing for English rugby but I think it has to be done right. Hopefully, there will be plenty of player influence on that as well because there are a lot of very intelligent guys in this changing room who have a lot of things to say and care a huge amount about the English game and its development going forward. Hopefully, the RFU use us and we’re heavily involved in those conversations.’
Perhaps George, at 33, will be too old for a central contract. There is a younger generation coming through. Martin, Ben Earl, Freddie Steward: the class of 2023. And that’s before we dig a little deeper to the likes of Alfie Barbeary, Greg Fisilau and Tommy Freeman.
Whatever happens, however, George will still be there fighting, chasing the prize that has eluded England for 20 years, praying that one day he finds the alchemist’s touch.
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