England forwards coach Richard Cockerill insists Jamie George has a crucial role to play in the decisive rounds of the Guinness Six Nations in the wake of Luke Cowan-Dickie’s campaign-ending knee injury.
Cowan-Dickie must undergo surgery to repair the cartilage and ligament damage sustained against Wales in round three and could be ruled out for the remainder of the season.
It paves the way for George to take ownership of the hooking duties against Ireland and France having slipped behind Cowan-Dickie in Eddie Jones’ pecking order for the position.
The pair has been locked in fierce competition for the jersey but at the latter stage of last year’s Six Nations there was a reversal in roles that was confirmed during the Lions tour to South Africa when Cowan-Dickie emerged as the starting Test hooker.
George’s stock fell further when he was omitted altogether from Jones’ initial squad for the autumn as part of a cull of senior players, only for an ankle injury to his rival to offer a reprieve.
And with England still in the hunt for the title and five-cap rookie Jamie Blamire the next option at hooker, Cockerill believes the Saracens front row is about to come into his own.
“Jamie’s role is vital for us. He brings not only his playing ability from him, but his leadership ability from him as a very experienced player, ”Cockerill said.
“He has worked hard away from England to get himself back in the squad, so he’s going to be vital for us. That experience he brings is huge.
“We’ve got some less experienced hookers in behind him so his leadership on and off the field, preparing for games as well as obviously in games, is going to be vital for what we do for the rest of the campaign.
“He’s played really well. When he’s been on the field, whether he started or is finishing, he has contributed enormously.
“When you are in big games you’re going to get some real pressure on your game. Experience is the thing that holds it together and Jamie will bring that in bucket loads.”
The loss of Cowan-Dickie is partly offset by the imminent return of fellow forward Jonny Hill, who has resumed training after recovering from a high ankle stress fracture and could make his comeback against Ireland at Twickenham on March 12.
Hill produced his most impressive international form yet during the autumn, bringing increased physicality to his game, and he could be propelled straight back into the second row if he avoids any setbacks.
“Jonny is very athletic and a very good line-out forward. He’s improved immensely with his ball carrying and physicality since the end of last season,” Cockerill said.
“He gives us another really good option with Maro Itoje and Charlie Ewels there, while Nick Isiekwe has done really well.
“We’ve got Joe Launchbury back in the squad as well so there is some real strength in depth there.
“Jonny will certainly be very keen to compete and put his hand up for selection for the rest of the tournament.”
England remained in title contention by toppling Wales 23-19, but there was a contentious moment early in the second half when Alex Dombrandt plundered a line-out try.
Wales boss Wayne Pivac said the score should not have stood because of an infringement at the set-piece, but Cockerill has little sympathy.
“We want to compete hard on opposition ball. No-one seemed to get in the air and in fairness, the Welsh team took the space as much as the English team. Sometimes that’s just the nature of competing for the ball,” he said.
“The referee and TMO looked at it and it’s play on. I’ve looked at it a lot and I’m sure I’m slightly biased, but it’s probably six of one, half a dozen of the other, and that’s the game sometimes isn’t it?”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.