George and Ford have chance to lay down England captaincy credentials

Jamie George and George Ford have the chance to lay down their England captaincy credentials in Sale’s Premiership showdown with Saracens

  • Title holders Saracens visit current league leaders Sale on Friday night
  • Jamie George and George Ford are prime contenders for England captaincy
  • Saracens lock Maro Itoje could also be considered by coach Steve Borthwick

Jamie George and George Ford will go into Friday’s re-run of the last Premiership final with their clubs – Saracens and Sale – convinced that they should be prime contenders for the England captaincy.

When the title holders visit the current league leaders in Salford, the veteran pair can enhance their case for the Red Rose leadership, following the decision by Owen Farrell – who should also be in action – to step down from Test duties, at least temporarily. 

Saracens lock Maro Itoje is another who could feature in the game and also be considered as captain by national coach Steve Borthwick.

Asked about his two front-line candidates for the coveted but high-pressure role, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: ‘They’ve both been part of our leadership group for a very long time. They are a bit different in the way they go about things and both of them would be very, very good England captains.’

Being a selection certainty is essential and both George and Itoje are in that category. George, who is long established as the country’s pre-eminent hooker, is 33 now – meaning he will turn 37 during the next World Cup. So his prospects could depend on whether Borthwick is inclined to make a short-term or long-term appointment.

Saracens hooker Jamie George is a front-line candidate for the coveted England captaincy

McCall added: ‘I think age is only a factor if you lose your competitive spirit and Jamie hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, far from it. He is still hugely ambitious and wants to achieve things with both club and country. 

‘When that fire still burns, which it does in Jamie, then I don’t think his age is going to be one of the issues.

‘Jamie is one of the brightest rugby people I know. He knows the game inside-out, as well as knowing the hooker position inside-out.’

Ford is not widely assumed to be in the certain-starter bracket, given the competition for England’s No 10 shirt provided by Marcus Smith. 

But Borthwick is more likely to entrust the primary playmaker role to the Sale fly-half, whose director of rugby, Alex Sanderson, is convinced has ample pedigree as an international captain.

‘He’s ready for it,’ he said. ‘I think he’s ready for any leadership role. He’s a massive leader for us and I think he could fill those boots in a different style to what Faz did.

‘He’s one of the best leaders that I’ve had the privilege of working with and that includes the Owen Farrells, Maro Itojes and the Jamie Georges. 

‘He is exceptionally emotionally intelligent. He can put across his messages really efficiently, which is difficult. He is able to thin-slice down to the exact point that he wants to convey and that is important on the field, as well as off the field.

‘He’s demanding of high standards without being oppressive and he’s autocratic. At times, he takes too much on in terms of giving direction of what needs to be done, but also trying to motivate and keep energy levels high. 

To do both is incredibly difficult. He can do both but what we’ve been trying to do is let him delegate more of the responsibility, so he can just focus on his own play.’

England boss Steve Borthwick is likely to entrust the primary playmaker role to George Ford

Meanwhile, Saracens and England have been boosted by the rapid recovery of back-rower Ben Earl, who could be ready for a comeback later this month – earlier than expected – after knee surgery. 

The initial fear was that he wouldn’t be available again until nearer the Six Nations but McCall provided a positive bulletin.

‘Ben is doing well,’ he said. ‘He’s been running consistently last week and this week. He should be in training with us towards the end of this week, or at the worst early next week. 

He has a chance of playing in the Newcastle game (on December 30), and if he doesn’t play against them, he will play in the next game.

‘Our medical team has done a great job and Ben has worked really hard. He has been really diligent with his rehab and he is ahead of schedule, but we obviously won’t take any risks with him. If he’s not quite right for Newcastle, we’ll get him in the week after.’

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