Jamie George: I was offered England captaincy the day Mum told me about her cancer

England captain Jamie George
England captain Jamie George will run out at Murrayfield this weekend with added motivation - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

On the very same day that Steve Borthwick offered Jamie George the England captaincy, the 33-year-old was digesting the news that his mother, Jane, had been diagnosed with cancer. With every possible emotion whirling inside him, George had to weigh up whether he could accept the offer given such personal circumstances.

Yet, Jane, “the biggest rugby fan on earth”, whose passionate support for her son echoed equally loudly across school pitches and vast stadiums, told him in no uncertain terms that there was no decision to make. When George did captain England for the first time against Italy, Jane texted him to say it was the proudest day of her life, but by now she was now too ill to attend matches. Four days after her diagnosis had become terminal, Jane, passed away on February 14.

“It’s been really tough,” George said. “I found out about her cancer diagnosis on the same day I found out I was going to be England captain, so that was a pretty mixed day. We’ve been going through a lot as a family for a long period. The deterioration she had was really fast.

“When I told my mum and dad about me being captain and I was saying I was not sure if it was the right thing or not given the circumstances, my mum was literally distraught. She was like, ‘you can’t not take this because of me’ and my dad is in very much the same way since her passing. She passed on Wednesday, Thursday I went home and my dad was like, ‘do you think you’ll make this training session? I think it’d be good for you to get back with the boys’.”

Jamie George training with England ahead of Saturday's Scotland clash
George training with England ahead of Saturday's Scotland clash - PA/Adam Davy

Part of George’s mission statement has been to make England supporters proud of their team again and he has witnessed that firsthand through his mother’s experience. “She was the biggest rugby fan on earth, she loved this team, loved watching me play, she never missed a game,” George said. “The text I’ve got from her before my first game [as captain] is something I will treasure forever. She said it was the proudest day of her life, given what she was going through to still be able to put a smile on her face is huge.

“When I first became captain, I spoke a lot about showing how much it means to you to play for England and what an amazing impact you can have on people’s lives. I have seen it first-hand. My mum was on her death-bed talking about the England rugby team and how proud she was of me being able to do what I do. That’s absolutely incredible. She will be with me in some capacity on Saturday and that means a huge amount to me.”

Jamie George with his parents during the 2017 Lions Tour of New Zealand
George with his parents during the 2017 Lions Tour of New Zealand

George’s mother was his biggest fan, watching every one of his matches as a schoolboy right up until this year’s Six Nations when she was too ill to attend games in person. Sometimes her passion got too much for her son to handle. “We had quite a few heated debates,” George said. “She was quite vocal when I first came into playing rugby – especially professional rugby. It must be a difficult transition; you go from watching your son play for Haileybury School in front of 12 people to the following year I was playing at Vicarage Road for Saracens in front of 20,000 people. Her volume level didn’t change, despite sitting in a family box with everyone else’s families around!”

Jamie George as a boy with his mum and dad
George as a boy (centre) with his mum and dad

Borthwick spoke to George about whether he needed to take time away from the game and has checked in every day on his mental well-being. Yet there was never any doubt in George’s own mind that he wanted to play at Murrayfield, not least because that is what she would have wanted him to do.

“Those thoughts go into your mind [taking time out] but it’s not what she would have wanted me to do – it’s actually the last thing she would have wanted me to do,” George said. “It’s not what I wanted to do. I feel very privileged to do what I do and hopefully the boys will agree that I’ve been able to fulfil my role as captain and fulfil my role as a player in this team.

“It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be involved in this game. It’s what my Mum would have wanted. Wherever she is now she will be looking down telling everyone that is there that her son is the England captain. I know for a fact that meant a huge amount to her.”

Jamie George hugging his mum on his wedding day
George hugging his mum on his wedding day

George’s father, uncle, brothers and cousin will be attending Murrayfield on Saturday which he plainly admits will be an emotional occasion. “Whenever I’ve played, I’ve always wanted to make my family proud,” George said. “It’s been a huge driver for me. That won’t change this weekend – it will probably be enhanced this weekend. It will be emotional for me coming out. It will be the first game that she won’t be there. She wasn’t able to come to the first two games to watch, which has been tough in itself.

“That has always been my motivation - making friends and family proud. It will probably be multiplied this weekend by quite a bit but when you get into the arena, when you step on to the field, everything that has happened away from it, it’s actually quite a nice feeling to be able to forget everything that has happened previously.

“Of course I’m going to use motivation, I want to win for her and I want to win in her memory as much as I possibly can but I’m fully aware that Scotland aren’t going to allow us to do that. It would be an amazing story if it did, it would be an amazing situation for my family but regardless of the result, I’m going out there to make her proud, I’m going out there to make the rest of my family in the stands proud too.”

Borthwick, who has now worked alongside George at both club (Saracens) and country, described the hooker as “one of the strongest people I have ever met”.

He said: “Having played alongside Jamie for a number of years at Saracens and continued that with (coaching) England;  Jamie’s brother worked at Saracens as well, and I knew Jamie’s mum pretty well. She used to give you the biggest hug after games. She was an incredible person and a very sad loss. She was at all of Jamie’s games that I can remember. That was the same when Jamie was coming through. There are a number of players who have grown up with Jamie who would have known his family. So it has impacted a lot of the players.

“Jamie George has got a strength in him that I think some people underestimate. He has a quiet strength that is phenomenal and it is one of the great assets that makes him a brilliant captain. He has had to be really strong. All the players are right behind him and supportive of him. I would describe him as one of the strongest people I have ever met.”