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Spirited Jamie George calls on England to ‘let New Zealand know who we are’
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Spirited Jamie George calls on England to ‘let New Zealand know who we are’

England have been sending rugby union teams on tour to New ­Zealand for 61 years but never have they exuded more intent before a Test series on Kiwi soil. Their captain, Jamie George, has pledged his side will take the All Blacks on ­physically, cause them to upgrade their ­opinions of English players and set the tone for a potentially spectacular sporting weekend.

George also says his team are ready to put in a huge performance and can achieve “something really special” this month if they get stuck in to their hosts from the outset and play to their potential. “We’ve come to New ­Zealand to play our way and take New Zealand on,” he said.

“What a great time for us to put our hands up and show what the English rugby team is about. There is ­Wimbledon going on and the ­quarter-finals of the Euros. It’s a hugely exciting time to be an ­English sports fan and we want to make ­people back home really proud of what we are doing.”

George has also been drawing on his own experiences against New ­Zealand, having previously faced them six times for the British & Irish Lions and England and lost twice. With several of New Zealand’s squad lacking a detailed knowledge of their opponents, the hooker sees ­similarities with the drawn 2017 Lions series against the All Blacks.

“The message then was that by the end of that series they are going to know who we are. That is certainly the message again from me and this England team.

“Walk towards it, embrace it, love it. What an amazing opportunity we have got here. It was 2003 the last time England won here. We were at a charity dinner before we left and they were asking Steve Borthwick about being on that tour. I said to the boys: ‘We’ve got an opportunity to do something really special so that in 20 years’ time they are going to be asking us about the victory.’

“I’ve been part of some really amazing wins abroad and what you remember as a player is the build-up towards the big game and how people speak. This week has got that feel. We have spoken really well, we have backed it up on the training field, we are feeling good, we are feeling fit, we are feeling ready to go and we want to take these guys on.”

George, however, still remembers the first Test in 2017 when the Lions felt they showed New Zealand too much respect. “I have regrets from that game. We can’t sit back and wait because, if we do, we’ll behind our poles 20 points down trying to create some sort of comeback. You have to respect what the All Blacks are about but, at the same time, I don’t think that should ever take away from how we set the tone.

“The challenge we’ve laid down is that we play at our physicality and our intensity. We’ll know whether we’re there or not within the first few ­minutes after kick-off.”

New Zealand, who have ­unexpectedly demoted the ­experienced Beauden Barrett to the replacements’ bench for their first match under their new head coach, Scott Robertson, have had limited preparation time and Sevu Reece, their fit-again wing, is among those unfamiliar with England’s new ­generation of players.

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Beuden Barrett shapes to pass in trainingView image in fullscreen

“I don’t really know much about them,” he said, when his direct ­opponents, Tommy Freeman and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, were ­mentioned. “We have just been ­trying to be familiar with the way we want to play.”

In George’s view, however, ­Feyi-Waboso is already a ­world-class talent – “He’s got absolute ­superpowers in his body that I would love to have” – who merely needs to go out and play without fear. “Don’t be afraid of holding back,” George said. “All we want to make sure we do is throw everything at this, whether they know who we are or not.”

England have not yet decided how they will respond to the traditional All Black haka, having memorably opted for an arrowhead formation before the 2019 World Cup ­semi-final ­triumph in Japan. “The most ­powerful thing for me was looking up at the big screen and seeing our captain smirking,” George said. “I don’t think I can pull off the [Owen] Farrell smirk but, regardless of what happens before the game, the first 10 minutes of a Test match sets the tone.

“We’re as well prepared as we ever have been in terms of trying to make players who haven’t played against New Zealand aware of what it’s about. Looking back to 2019 that’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of. Sometimes, with special occasions like that it allows you to go to a place you never thought you were capable of going. We’re going to need to go to some dark places to get a win in Dunedin.”

Source: theguardian.com