Jamie George said he was inspired by Ben Stokes’ ‘Bazball’ approach as England’s new captain urged his team to play with courage heading into the Guinness Six Nations.
As he prepares to lead England against Italy for the first time, George is aware that the team must rebuild the bond with the fans that was lost in the final years of the Eddie Jones era and even during last year’s World Cup. year has crumbled. George, a huge cricket fan, has had talks with both Stokes and Jos Buttler, England’s red and white ball captains, and is looking to strengthen his own young team with uncapped players at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
“Why not take inspiration from what Ben Stokes is doing with the England cricket team?” George said. “You look at the influence he has on young players, allowing them to perform the way they do, and creating an environment that allows that to happen. It’s exactly the model we want.
“I’m not saying it will be perfect, it will never be perfect. But at the same time, he’s someone I draw a lot of inspiration from, along with a few others I’ve personally worked with. It’s been talked about quite well that I want that connection with the fans, I want people to enjoy coming to watch England, for lots of reasons. The result is one thing, the way we play the game is another, the amount of struggle and character it produces. we show the amount of pride and passion we play with.”
This, George adds, is not about playing the equivalent of a Joe Root reverse ramp shot on the first ball of the morning of an Ashes Test match – which he says would be the same as playing in the first five minutes would score a drop goal. Instead, the 33-year-old wants this England team to discover their own way of making fans proud of a side that has won just two games in each of the last three Six Nations Championships.
“He talks about being entertainers, we want to entertain people, of course we do, but we want to do it the right way, we want to do it the English way,” George said. “And they managed to find a way to do that with Bazball and the rest. So we will find our own way to do it, and we are very clear about the kind of team we want to take forward.
“Something I’ve emphasized this week and Steve has emphasized is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re not saying it’s absolutely okay to go out and make a bunch of mistakes and make the same mistakes over and over again, but it’s okay if things aren’t perfect. What we want is to have the courage to go, the courage to hire, and that starts this weekend with Italy.
“We want to make a statement, we also want to make it very clear what this England team stands for in the future. And we want to give the English fans plenty to cheer about. We hear a lot of good things about how many English fans will be there.”
‘We expect Italy to come out with fire and flame’
Italy, in their first match under new head coach Gonzalo Quesada, will feel this is their best chance of a first-ever win against England, who have lost the opening match of the past four Six Nations Championships. However, George is confident England will meet the Italians’ intensity after getting their new faces up to speed at their training camp in Girona.
“Going into the first game of the Six Nations, in Rome, against a very emotional team, we expect them to come out on fire, with smoke coming out of their ears and a huge amount of emotion,” George said. “The result is huge, but the way we go about it, laying the foundation for what we want and setting a mark is also important.
“I think we’ve probably identified one thing as a senior playing group [about slow starts], it’s a short time to be together, 10 days of preparation isn’t much time, especially with a lot of new faces. “We wanted to make sure we did that, which is the two to three day window where you dip your toe in, just feel it, what do we think. None of that. Let’s make it a really open environment that people can come into, and that’s not the least bit intimidating, so people can get on with their work.
“And really, I’m not just saying this, this is the quickest way I’ve ever seen a group take a plan, put it on the field, build on it, put their own personal touch on it, and our The opportunity to do that is really encouraging.”
England played in a straightjacket at the World Cup – now the chains have to be removed
On Thursday, Steve Borthwick made it clear that England have had just three main training sessions in the run-up to this Six Nations Championship. The England head coach even made that same point four times, making it clear to everyone that his preparation time was limited.
If you read between the bold lines, the implication is that you can expect a gradual evolution rather than the wholesale revolution that could be interpreted based on his roster of five uncapped players and his captain’s vague references to ‘Bazball’ makes. In terms of excitement, the ‘Borthball’ seen at the World Cup was about as far from the world of reverse ramps and switch-hit sixes as you can get, unless you get your kicks from a good up-and-under.
This was, as most rational people accepted, an act of necessary short-term opportunism, after Borthwick had had less than eight months to get the still-smoldering Eddie Jones-era car crash back on the road. England’s third-place finish proved that the pragmatic means justified the ends, even if they conveniently forgot the fact that they only beat teams they expected them to beat.
Now that the bar has been raised for basic competence in the set-piece and in defence, how much more can we expect? As the outline of the three training sessions suggests, England is not about one Stars in their eyesIdentity change in style – Dan Cole isn’t coming out as Boy George – but there has to be at least some evidence that the shackles are loosening.
During the World Cup, the England players looked like they were playing in literal and metaphorical straitjackets, unable to play more than three consecutive phases because their statistical model says the world will end if this happens. Above all, you just want the English backs to trust their eyes and back their instincts, rather than be bound by a script that seems written in Roman marble.
England will remain a kick-heavy team, but there is nothing inherently wrong with being a kick-heavy team. Northampton, the Premier League leaders, kick more than a mile a game, but no one would ever accuse them of being boring to watch because their head coach, Sam Vesty, gives his players the license to play whatever they want. see with their heads up. Too often in the World Cup, England created an overlap, only to kick possession away because their blinders were on.
There’s no point in drafting the insanely talented Immanuel Feyi-Waboso if all you want to do is have him chasing kicks. Likewise, George Ford remains one of the sharpest rugby brains around. He is able to play in the middle of the defensive line and change the point of attack at the last second with his lush passing options. Yes, he can score goals and kick to the corners when he needs to, but you’re wasting a lot of his skills if you don’t let him play flat and fast.
Captain Jamie George hinted that such a change could be on the way, that England would seize the opportunity and be allowed to take risks. “We’re not saying it’s absolutely okay to make a ton of mistakes and make the same mistakes over and over again, but it’s okay if things aren’t perfect,” George said. “What we want is to have the courage to go, the courage to hire people, and that starts this weekend with Italy.”
Borthwick is right to say that England’s training time is limited, but guess what that always will be. Even with the new Professional Game Partnership, England will not receive any additional training for the Six Nations, the summer tour or the autumn internationals. The only time this isn’t the case is before the World Cup.
No, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did start with a dash of ambition. If George is serious about bringing supporters into this new era, England must do the same.