TWICKENHAM — Steve Borthwick used a ruse suggested to him by footballing great Vincent Kompany to help pick Jamie George as England’s new captain for the Six Nations.
George, the 33-year-old Saracens hooker with 85 Test caps, takes over the captaincy from Owen Farrell, who has removed himself temporarily from England consideration, and Courtney Lawes, who retired from international rugby after the World Cup.
George has just extended his stay at Saracens, the club he joined at the age of 14, by two years, and they said on Wednesday he has also been offered one of the Rugby Football Union’s new “hybrid” contracts.
Combined with George’s presence as a board director of the new players’ commercial vehicle, Team England Rugby Ltd, it positions him as a dominant figure in the on- and off-field affairs of the national team.
Despite missing Sarries’ last two matches against Leicester and Bordeaux-Bègles with a neck injury, George is set to lead England’s World Cup bronze medallists into their Six Nations opener in Italy on Saturday 3 February, having skippered his club occasionally over the years, and the British & Irish Lions once in a fixture with the Sharks in South Africa in 2021 – although he missed out on Test selection to Ken Owens and Luke Cowan-Dickie on that tour.
England head coach Borthwick announced a squad of 36 players at Twickenham on Wednesday, and said: “The one thing I said [to George] was ‘I want you to lead as you’. During my time as England captain, I don’t think I led as me. I want him to bring all his personality to it.
“Prior to the World Cup we did this study, a network analysis, for want of a better term. It was actually an idea given to me by Vincent Kompany. You basically give the players a series of questions, and they put the top three players they’d turn to in this situation.
“What it effectively produces is this network of how everybody connects, and who connects with who the most. And the number of people who connected with Jamie George is immense. That stood out to me as being exceptional. He’s got a positive nature. There’s always a smile very close. And I want him to bring all of that into this role.”
Borthwick said there had been a “whole host of potential candidates” for the captaincy, among whom Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje also scored well in the analysis, while Ben Earl is “emerging as a leader within this group”.
He did not name-check George Ford, but it remains to be seen whether or not that is a pointer to the Sale fly-half being beaten to a starting place by Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, with Fin Smith of Northampton the other No 10 in the squad.
Jamie George will turn 37 during the next World Cup in Australia in 2027, and Borthwick said: “I have put no time [frame] on this. If players are smart and look after themselves well – and the enhanced EPS will be important in this regard – you can see players playing later.”