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'It was very tough for George': Newcastle's England hooker rivalry

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Chris Lishman/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Incoming Newcastle boss Dave Walder has shed light on the rivalry that exists between George McGuigan and Jamie Blamire, the two Falcons hookers included in Eddie Jones’ squad of 36 for next week’s England training camp. It’s rare that English Test squad players who play a specialist position hail from the same club, but the 29-year-old McGuigan has just received his first call up after watching the 24-year-old Blamire make the breakthrough eleven months ago, going on to earn six caps.

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It’s a curious situation. Blamire is the second choice to McGuigan in the Newcastle pecking order – he has been a sub in all 14 of his Gallagher Premiership appearances this season and a scorer of a single try whereas McGuigan has started in all 20 of his league games and scored a hefty tally of 14 tries.

However, until now, it was only Blamire who was on Jones’ speed dial for England selection and not McGuigan. You imagine that could generate some awkward moments for the hookers at the Kingston Park but Walder, the head coach who will succeed the departing director of rugby Dean Richards for the 2022/23 campaign, explained that this wasn’t the case due to the way McGuigan reacted over the course of the season.

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“They have both got huge respect for each other in terms of they have known each other a long time,” explained Walder, chuffed that Newcastle now have two hookers vying for contention for the England tour to Australia.  

“In all honesty, it was very tough for George. He was starting with us every week and seeing Jamie getting picked but he took it the right way – he motivated it and played very well. The lads probably helped that. There were a couple of socials where George was wearing a Newcastle shirt with Jamie’s name on the back as part of the social and with the nature of changing rooms, you don’t get an easy ride from it. 

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“George has used it to drive him on and they fundamentally get on really well, they complement each other really, really well and they get the balance right. Whether or not that stays moving forward if they are both on that same plane with England, I don’t know but at the moment they definitely challenge each other in the right way and certainly get on in the right way.” 

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While Tuesday’s England squad announcement brought delighted for McGuigan and Blamire, the two Newcastle hookers, there was disappointment for Adam Radwan, the winger who was a regular squad pick across the recent Guinness Six Nations, heading down for England training at the start of weeks and returning to play for the Falcons at the weekends. He has two caps and scored four tries, but hasn’t played since the November win over Tonga.

“I haven’t spoken to Adam specifically,” said Walder at Wednesday’s Newcastle media briefing ahead of Riochards’ last home match in charge, this Saturday’s game versus Leicester. “I don’t know how England works at the moment, whether they tell people who were or weren’t on squads. 

“I’m not sure about that communication side, so I can’t talk about Adam other than I think he is back to where we would hope he would get back to. He had a slight dip in the middle of the season but he played brilliantly at Sale. He set up a try and was looking as sharp as ever.”

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