Jamie George: The defeat to Fiji at Twickenham was a line in the sand - we can’t be that team again

Jamie George has admitted he understands fans’ frustration at England’s performances  (Getty Images)
Jamie George has admitted he understands fans’ frustration at England’s performances (Getty Images)

Sat in an empty top tier at Twickenham with the rest of England’s unused squad members, Jamie George could only watch from on high as the disaster unfolded beneath him. It was late August and the final warm-up game before the World Cup, a day that was meant to serve as a sort of celebratory send-off for Steve Borthwick’s side turned upside down by Fiji’s first-ever victory over England.

Borthwick’s men have won four from four since but, as the two nations prepare to re-acquaint themselves with one another on the elevated stage of a World Cup quarter-final, the performance still feels fresh in the memory. The fact that so many common themes resurfaced in the final pool game against Samoa, where two vital late interventions from Danny Care rescued England from the ignominy of another historic defeat, suggest that England might not have progressed as significantly as thought.

For the players, the sights, sounds and sores of that warm-up showing feel fresher still. After each game, England, like all test nations, engage in a Monday morning review, discussing the weekend’s performance in detail to determine what was done well and what must be done better. This week, though, it wasn’t just the scraping past Samoa that was on Kevin Sinfield’s agenda as the defence coach sought to emphasise the need for improvement, with a few choice clips from a day on which England missed nearly 30 tackles included to underline the point.

“[The Fiji defeat] has been brought up this week,” George revealed, with England using the frustration at their performance as a motivational tool. “We would have been stupid not to, to be honest, because it was almost like a line in the sand previously, for us to step forward from. We learned a huge amount that week and we are a significantly better team on the back of it.

“Some clips have been shown, because it is a reminder we can’t be that team again. We are playing against a very, very good team that are very dangerous when you give them what they want. We weren’t physical enough.

“We don’t need it hammering home but a few clips were brought up by Kev Sinfield. He said, ‘I wasn’t sure about showing you this, but we can’t be this team again’. We are still hurting from performances like that, I still hurt from performances three years ago. You don’t like to be reminded of those things but if that can fuel the fire then why not?”

The Fiji loss was England’s fifth home defeat in nine months, and came on a day where supporters were already voting with their feet. Canvass an average group of Twickenham fans over the last two years or so and they would return a range of responses broadly on a spectrum between apathy and anger, with a clear sense of disillusionment after so many on and off-pitch muddles.

“Have the performances been consistently good enough over the last couple of years? No,” George admits. “So do I understand why the support might dip in and out? Yes.

England suffered a first ever defeat to Fiji at Twickenham in August (Getty Images)
England suffered a first ever defeat to Fiji at Twickenham in August (Getty Images)

“There might have been frustration because, ultimately, I’m the same, I want England to win every week and I want us to perform as well as we possibly can.

“We haven’t done that, but we have come to a World Cup, we’re four from four and we’re where we want to be and the support that we’ve had over here and the support that we have received from back home has been absolutely unbelievable and that fills me with pride.”

England’s travelling support has, however, been a feature of this tournament, with the atmosphere on the opening weekend in Marseille excellent and the proximity of Lille to London allowing thousands to pile on to the Eurostar for the games against Chile and Samoa.

Among the Channel hoppers were George’s recent Saracens teammates Duncan Taylor, Richie Barrington and Jackson Wray, taking the opportunity to imbibe a game of rugby and a beverage or two. The hooker had a catch up with his old club colleagues – “I was a little bit jealous of their weekend. It looked like good craic.” – and was again struck by the number of England fans evidently present.

The time will come for George to join the travelling masses (33 next week, the hooker is not yet sure if he has another World Cup left in him) but, for now, he is focussed on giving the fans a performance to, finally, be proud of.

“As I have said many, many times I am an England fan first and foremost and I will be for a very, very long time,” George explained. “The travelling support has been absolutely phenomenal, I haven’t experienced anything like it.

Jamie George hopes that England fans will get behind their side (Getty Images)
Jamie George hopes that England fans will get behind their side (Getty Images)

“I’ve started doing a walk around the field after we get to the stadium and there are white shirts in the seats, that’s an hour and a half before kick-off. They sometimes give you applause, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. I think back to that game against Argentina and that was special.

“We spoke a lot before this tournament about how important it was for us to take our fans on a journey and it feels like we’re doing that. Hopefully a good performance and a victory on the weekend leads many more people to support us back home who potentially might not be.”