Home Features Opinion: Why Jamie George Should Be England’s First Choice Hooker

Opinion: Why Jamie George Should Be England’s First Choice Hooker

You might not realise it, but England’s most difficult positional decision lies at hooker.

Jamie George is a talented all-round hooker with a very bright future, but his potential selection ahead of captain Dylan Hartley could have significant ramifications for the Red Rose as a whole.

It’s hard to deny the impact that previously troubled Northampton Saints man Hartley has had on the England team. Since he was announced as Eddie Jones’ first captain – a surprising decision for some – a player associated more with ill-discipline rather than outstanding leadership has led his country to a first grand slam in 13 years and a 3-0 thrashing of Australia in their own back yard.

What Hartley has that previous captain Chris Robshaw lacks is a steely edge in both his decision-making and the way he plays the game. One of Franklin’s Gardens’ finest players has always played on the edge of the law, but his approach to the game has permeated the rest of the England team, with an abrasive streak that was sorely missing before.

Yet Hartley’s career remains on a knife edge. His various concussions and head-related injuries mean one more knock could end it all for the Saints man. Hartley’s precarious position has led to him reflecting on more than just rugby (via The Telegraph):

“I just had a constant reminder every time that you see your kid and you think, ‘If I hit my head again, what’s that going to mean?’”

“Three in one season would warrant a bit of time off, take a step back and have a minute. Ask me when it happens.”

Therefore, it is very, very likely that Hartley will not make it to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Given his age as well – the hooker would be almost 34 by the time the tournament starts – the odds are very much stacked against the player making it to Japan.

Step forward then, Jamie George. He’s not a modern day athletic Adonis like James Haskell or Maro Itoje, but he is a very intelligent player with no shortage of ability.

The impact he has had off the bench in the Six Nations and the Australia tour has shown what he can offer in a white shirt, and his consistent performances for Saracens over the past couple of seasons illustrate that he can back it up over a prolonged period.

However, if George is promoted to become England’s newest hooker, it will mean yet another captain will need to take the reins.

It seems unlikely Jones would turn back to the solid-but-unspectacular leadership of Chris Robshaw, so who does he pass on the baton to?

Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Mike Brown are Jones’ current trio of vice captains, but none of them really fits the bill to become England’s captain in the medium-term future.

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Farrell has enough responsibility as it is being out of position at 12 and England’s goal kicker, whilst Vunipola still needs to refine himself as a player before taking on any kind of captaincy role.

Brown, like Hartley, is on the wrong side of 30 and could well face the axe before England turn up in Japan in 2019.

There are other, more left field candidates in the ludicrously talented Itoje, a man who appears to have the face of a teenager but the wisdom of an elderly philosopher. Second row rival Joe Launchbury, currently Wasps’ captain, also has his supporters, although he can’t even get into the England team right now.

At some point soon though, Jones is going to have to revisit both the England hooker position and therefore the challenging issue of the captaincy as well. It might be less painful for the team as a whole if the issue is addressed now rather than closer to the World Cup.

Moreover, with Hartley only just recovering from yet another injury and both George and Exeter Chiefs’ Luke Cowan-Dickie playing particularly well for their respective clubs, it may be that Jones will have little choice but to alter the make-up of the team that has served him so well so far into his time in charge.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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