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FEATURE 'Borthwick may conclude George Martin is now indispensable'

'Borthwick may conclude George Martin is now indispensable'
4 months ago

England turn their attention to France no longer characterised as dreary data-driven dementors but as an intoxicating attacking force breathing new life into the Red Rose.

It is quite a turnaround on the back of 80 minutes of rugby but then again it was quite an 80 minutes of rugby.

Beneath the eye-catching jewels of the backline tries, Ben Earl bursts and Marcus Smith drop-goal, there were many factors that came together for England to click against Ireland. But at the core of a performance which has reinvigorated the entire English game was a rabid intensity of purpose.

George Martin
George Martin was a dominant presence in the set-pieces and tight phases for England (Photo Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Front-foot England have always been an entirely different proposition to idling England and at Twickenham the engine was firing again at last.

When Steve Borthwick strips it all back, he may well come to a conclusion which will shape the make-up of the England pack for the next decade. George Martin is indispensable from now on.

All the best teams have an enforcer’s presence at their core and in Martin England have a natural. He is a crew-cut commando moulded for combat.

One line from a conversation with Martin ahead of the Ireland game over what he loves about rugby stuck.

Pollard informed them that Martin tackled like a South African. He was met with some disbelieving looks from his team-mates. Then he vaporised Franco Mostert and they got what he meant.

“The physicality of the game is the best part,” he said. “They’re the games – the proper Test matches where it’s so physical… it’s just all man against man. It’s class.”

The 22-year-old topped the England tackle count alongside Ollie Lawrence with 14 on Saturday, clattering Irishmen with a jarring, momentum-halting ferocity.

He was at the heart of a maul defence and ruck and lineout disruption operation which also stopped the Six Nations champions in their tracks.

He did to Ireland what many shrewd judges believe he is destined to do for England for a long time to come.

George Martin
Martin came to global prominence with his display for England in their RWC semi-final against South Africa (Photo Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

When you meet Martin, you are instantly struck by how densely he is constructed. He is tall – 6ft 6in – and wide too but it is his depth which is the thing you notice. That and the size of the paw delivering the handshake.

At 19st, there is a lot of Martin to hit opponents with and he uses every ounce. When he hits, he hits hard.

His Leicester team-mate Handre Pollard told the story at a club sponsor’s event after both had returned from last year’s World Cup of how he had warned the Springboks about Martin’s taste for confrontation before the semi-final against England.

Pollard informed them that Martin tackled like a South African. He was met with some disbelieving looks from his team-mates. Then he vaporised Franco Mostert and they got what he meant.

Martin has a thirst for improvement. After Leicester had been handed a 45-12 hiding by La Rochelle in January three weeks after his return to action, he went into the opposition dressing room and sought out his opposite number Will Skelton.

While that South Africa game – two-and-a-half years on from a premature debut handed to him by Eddie Jones when he was still only 19 – alerted a global audience to his wipeout capability, it also stopped him in his tracks. A knee injury sustained in the match sidelined him for two months.

He used the time wisely.

“I felt like it was a good opportunity to build on other parts of my game so I had a good look at myself and my game and what I need to get better at,” he said.

“For me, it was the blast at the breakdown post-tackle, making sure my second effort is there and causing destruction at the breakdown.”

On Saturday, he was one of the reasons why Ireland’s attacking ruck speed was slower than England’s with 22 per cent of their ball taking a glacial six seconds-plus to arrive.

George Martin
Martin was England’s joint-top tackler, including two dominant hits, helping slow down Ireland’s attack (Photo Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Conversely, the quick recycling that saw Lawrence cross for England’s first try came about because Martin took Ireland’s meddler-in-chief Josh van der Flier out of the equation.

Martin has a thirst for improvement. After Leicester had been handed a 45-12 hiding by La Rochelle in January three weeks after his return to action, he went into the opposition dressing room and sought out his opposite number Will Skelton.

He wanted some advice from the giant Wallaby, specifically on how he had managed to disrupt the Leicester maul so effectively. Martin’s combination of humility and boldness impressed Skelton almost as much as his unflinching performance in adversity on the field.

Martin’s presence was transformational for the England pack – and the side as a whole – giving the forward unit the bang it has been lacking. Jamie George thought the word ‘oomph’ summed it up succinctly.

Martin hyper-extended his knee in that game and was forced out of the first part of the Six Nations. Required to play catch-up in this championship, he made a forceful impact off the bench in defeat to Scotland before being promoted at the weekend.

Martin’s presence was transformational for the England pack – and the side as a whole – giving the forward unit the bang it has been lacking. Jamie George thought the word ‘oomph’ summed it up succinctly.

Borthwick knows Martin’s potential as well as anyone having coached him from his first season in the senior team at Leicester.

He was a latecomer to rugby, having initially left his imprint on opponents as an uncompromising centre-back on the football field. But at 14, he started playing at Loughborough and was soon picked up by the Tigers’ development programme.

He was involved in the Leicester academy team that won back-to-back Premiership Under-18s trophies and made his Premiership debut while still a teenager.

In December he signed a long-term contract extension with the club.

George Martin
Martin made his Leicester debut as a teenager and helped them to the Premiership title in 2022 (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

In many ways he represents a throwback to uncompromising Tigers’ forwards of old. It is unfair to compare him with the greatest of them all, Martin Johnson, just yet but he has the raw materials. 

Martin was a horses-for-courses selection by Borthwick with Ollie Chessum moved to the back row to stack England’s lineout options so it is possible the head coach may revert back to a specialist No.6 at some point.

If he does so, the thinking over what that means for the second row has to evolve.

The choice should now be between Maro Itoje and Chessum for one place; Martin’s name should be inked in.

He gives England’s pack the balance and the ballast it has needed.

If he is fit, from now on he must play.

Comments

3 Comments
j
john 129 days ago

I agree chessum was great at 6 why change

N
Neil 129 days ago

Chessum had a great game at 6. Can’t we start with three locks every game???

A
Alex 129 days ago

Martin should be absolutely locked in as first choice tighthead lock for the foreseeable. Be good to see Tuima brought into the squad and given some game time tn the position too as he's the only other player at the moment with the size and power.

Partnering them with a more athletic no 5 like Itoje, Chessum or Cole gives a real balance in set piece and loose play

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