Jamie George believes Saracens’ British & Irish Lions contingent will make an immediate impact after bolstering the squad in Jersey thanks to a specially tailored fitness regime at their club, with the England hooker set to be put straight into the squad to face Japan at Murrayfield.
George arrived at the Lions pre-tour camp in Jersey on Monday, along with clubmates Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly, 24 hours after cementing Saracens’ return to the Premiership. Finn Russell also arrived on Monday while Kyle Sinckler and Tom Curry joined up on Sunday, leaving Exeter’s quartet as the only players still absent.
Warren Gatland will on Tuesday name his side for the warm-up match against Japan on Saturday in what will offer the first insight into his plans for the tour of South Africa. The majority of the 23-man squad is set to be made up of players who arrived in Jersey eight days ago but George is also poised to feature, most likely from the bench.
With Luke Cowan-Dickie still absent, Ken Owens was the only hooker in the touring party taking part in Jersey until George’s arrival. Gatland called on Ireland’s Ronan Kelleher to assist in training but it is understood he will not be involved against Japan, paving the way for George to come straight into the squad. Either Russell or Farrell is also expected to be part of the 23.
George and the rest of the Saracens contingent were below par during England’s dismal Six Nations campaign, raising questions over their readiness for the Lions tour. After Saracens lost their first match of the Championship campaign, however, all five played far more minutes since March than first expected. And George believes the second tier has produced physical challenges akin to those awaiting in South Africa, revealing the Saracens performance director, Phil Morrow, who was seconded to the Lions for the 2017 tour of New Zealand, has also ensured they departed for Jersey in prime condition.
“I said all along that many of the games [in the Championship] are as physical as many of the games we are going to play – especially in the front five forwards,” said George. “We have been really lucky to have someone like 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. We have been really lucky that he has been tailoring our programme to make sure we hit the ground running. The main thing will be getting up to speed in terms of the lineout calls and plays but we are on a Lions tour, I am going to do my homework and be as ready as I possibly can be.”
The Lions defence coach, Steve Tandy, is also confident the Saracens quintet will not be undercooked after a season in the Championship and expects them to soon get up to speed. “The Saracens players have got experience from Lions tours, winning European Cups and Premierships, and know what it takes to connect the group,” he said. “No doubt they’ll be prepared. They played in the Six Nations as well so there’s no doubt they’ll be fully ready to go.”
Meanwhile, Bundee Aki is also hopeful of being selected on Tuesday after he was among the surprise inclusions in the initial 37-man squad. In his late teens Aki called time on his career, taking up a job at a bank to provide for his family in his native New Zealand, but he is now set to represent the British & Irish Lions after he was convinced to return to the sport 10 years ago.
“At the time I had a new-born and I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to pursue a career in rugby,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s about my family and my kids so I had to make that sacrifice to be able to provide for my family. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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