Jamie George: Saracens stars ready for Lions tour despite season in Championship

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Jamie George insists the British and Irish Lions’ Saracens contingent are ready to meet the physical demands of the tour to South Africa despite a season spent campaigning in the Championship.

The club’s five Lions jetted into Jersey on Monday morning to join up with Warren Gatland’s squad less than 24 hours after dismantling Ealing for the second time in a week to secure an immediate return to the Gallagher Premiership.

While buoyant over regaining their place in the top flight, they must now demonstrate that 11 matches in the second tier of English rugby have not left them ill-prepared to face the world champions.

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A lack of match sharpness after two months of inactivity was exposed early on in England’s Six Nations, but George insists the Championship has tested their mettle.

“Many of the games are as physical as any of the games we are going to play in – especially in the front five forwards,” he said.

“The league is probably not as quick as the Premiership, but in terms of the physicality it’s right up there.

“There are challenges in there – game time is obviously a big thing and we have been getting a lot of game time.

England captain Owen Farrell has also joined up with the Lions in Jersey
England captain Owen Farrell has also joined up with the Lions in Jersey (Ashley Western/PA)

“We’re also really lucky we have someone like (Saracens performance director) Phil Morrow. He heads up our performance and was on the previous Lions tour.

“He knows what it takes to get yourself physically and mentally right to go on that tour.

“He’s been tailoring our programme to make sure we hit the ground running when we get to Jersey.”

Gatland on Tuesday names his team to face Japan in Saturday’s pre-tour clash at Murrayfield and as one of only two hookers in Jersey for the Lions’ training camp, George is primed for a bench role with Ken Owens set to start.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland names his first team of the 2021 tour to South Africa on Tuesday
Lions head coach Warren Gatland names his first team of the 2021 tour to South Africa on Tuesday (PA)

“The main thing for me will be getting up to speed in terms of the line-out calls and plays,” George said.

“But we are on a Lions tour, I’m going to get my head down, do my homework and be as ready as I possibly can be.

“The nice thing is we know there are only six days from arriving to when we play Japan so there is going to be a lot of emphasis on getting to know your stuff.

“I would love to play against Japan. It’s an opportunity to play for the Lions on home soil, which doesn’t come around very often. I will take every opportunity I can to play.”

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Bundee Aki is primed for a midfield role in Edinburgh as he reflects on his path from bank teller in Auckland to selection for the Lions.

Aki quit rugby in 2011 in order to earn money to support his family but was convinced to return by All Blacks great Tana Umaga and, three years later, he was playing for Connacht where he qualified for Ireland on residency grounds.

“At the time I had a newborn and I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to pursue a career in rugby,” Aki said.

“Obviously it’s all about my family, all about my kids, so I had to make that sacrifice to be able to provide for my family.

“At the time I was only playing club rugby so, looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing because I did everything I can to provide for my family and put them first.”

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