I’ve long had an interest in the work of The Saracens Sports Foundation and have tried my best to find out as much as I can about them, bumping into Jamie George at Allianz Park gave me not only the chance to learn all about Jamie the rugby player, but also about Jamie the Foundation Trustee as well.
As is the way when I interview we start at the beginning! Jamie was born in Welwyn Garden City, his father Ian was and is Director of Sport at Haileybury – a Co-educational Boarding and Day School. Ian was a rugby man, he played for Northampton and London Welsh, captained the Barbarians and sat on the England bench many times – in the era when subs weren’t allowed.
Jamie’s Mum was also very sporty, playing Hockey and Netball at County Level. Jamie is one of 3 boys with his brothers being twins, 5 years older than him. I can only begin to imagine what that household must’ve been like with 3 sports crazy lads !
To listen to Jamie talk about his childhood it was clearly a very happy one with pretty much any sport you can name being available as the family lived on the school campus. There were always lots of other kids to join in with the fun and games from amongst the teachers’ families.
Jamie started playing rugby at the age of 5 at Hertford Rugby Club, a place that would introduce the man Jamie credits with being his biggest influence as far as his career is concerned. Mike Hynard was Captain at the club, but also Academy Coach for Saracens.
The Premiership club came into his life when he was 14 and he had his first full pre-season when he was 15/16. Up until this point Jamie had been playing in the Backs, slotting in as either Fly Half or Full Back , but Mike had other plans for him. Hooker was to be his position, he played there for the 1st time in a county game. He also toyed with playing at 8 – clearly a versatile young man!
By 16 he was playing at hooker, he was also playing for England, he represented his country in the U16’s, U18’s and in a successful U20’s team – Jamie captained the team in the IRB Junior World Championships where they came 3rd.
All of this rugby had to be combined with an education at Haileybury – with 2 parents who are teachers, academic achievement was important for Jamie. He did well with his GCSE’s but found himself picked to play for England in Japan at the time of his A Level exams – I have to comment here that the timing of the games was a little crazy, but Jamie was the only 18 year old in the U20’s team.
Jamie’s Mum found a clause which he believes dated back to the war – the clause gave an exception if you are away on international duty – I imagine that was for soldiers, but playing for your country certainly is to be defined in the way written. Jamie didn’t have to take his exams, coursework suffice and he was awarded his A levels.
Jamie became a full time rugby player with Saracens at the age of 18 – he was one of what’s known as the Class of 08 at Saravens, along with Owen Farrell, George Kruis, Will Fraser and Jackson Wray. Jamie came into the club at the same time as Brendan Venter, he’s seen a few changes to say the very least.
We spoke about Schalk Brits a man Jamie clearly holds in very high regard; Jamie studied Brits’ game learning from him on the pitch, where he was a mentor. He has also learnt a lot from him off the pitch and counts him as a great friend. I see Schalk as ‘Sunshine on Legs’ he always seems to have a smile on his face. But, Jamie explained he is hugely competitive as soon as he steps onto the pitch.
Another South African was to have a huge influence on Jamie – One John Smit, former Springbok Captain was signed by Saracens. That put a world class Hooker ahead of him, but it was the time Jamie learnt and developed the most as he had to fight for his place.
Jamie was captain of the Saracens Storm and then for the LV Cup team between the ages of 18 and 20, he captained Smit and Peter Stringer amongst others – an amazing experience!
As Jamie was progressing towards becoming a regular with the 1st team so Mike Hynard did too as Team Manager, making the transition a smooth one. Along with 3 of his other Class of 08 team mates Jamie has now reached the milestone of 100 caps for Saracens – making him a member of the Saracens 100 Club. When I asked him where he saw his future he immediately said at Saracens! I’d like to think that future will also include caps for his Country at the senior level.
We moved onto the subject of the Sports Foundation and how he became involved. Richard Hill (another rugby great!) was a mentor for the Class of 08 and also the player rep on the Foundation committee. Jamie was approached to join the group at th extender age of 21. At that time he had no idea what it was all about as he found himself in a room with another 7 trustees talking things such as finance. But as time has gone on he is now an active member of the committee as well as a participant in the work of the Foundation.
A quick summary of the work of the Saracens Sports Foundation –
- Rugby Roots – Providing grass root participation and development opportunities for young people across North London and Hertfordshire
- Get Onside – Working with young people from challenging backgrounds with the aim of fostering a sense of belonging, and belief, helping to move the young people to the next stage whether that be education or employment. One aspect of this work involves engaging with young offenders at Feltham Young Offenders Institute. Another is the Premiership Rugby’s programme HITZ.
- School Of Cheer – An award winning dance programme for 5-19 year olds, with a big emphasis on school clubs.
- Sport For All – Every Monday Allianz Park becomes a hub for disability sport by providing opportunities for people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities. An off shoot of this is to provide respite for parents and carers.
- Eat Well, Live Well – A healthy eating course being delivered across schools in North London and Hertfordshire.
- Active For Life – The programme aims to increase the number of people over 50 who are participating in physical activity by providing appropriate, localised, accessible and affordable opportunities in the community.
It’s clear that Jamie has a real passion for his role and the work of the Foundation – to take his words from their 2014 Impact Report –
“As Professional Rugby Players. we understand the role sport can play in the lives of young people. The Saracens Sports Foundation provides insertion and opportunity and we are proud to be involved in the work”
As well as helping with what is a great cause the experience being gained by Jamie will be invaluable for his future – post rugby. In line with the majority of the players at the club he has an eye on the day he won’t be playing rugby, the Personal Development Plan at Saracens gives an expectation that players will prepare for their future away from the game.
Jamie has 2.5 years of a 4 year Sports Science degree behind him, it’s a transferable qualification he plans to complete. He has Level 2 qualifications in coaching rugby and strength and conditioning and is looking to complete his level 3 coaching badge. In addition he’s working with APEX – a currency exchange company in the City and is looking at gaining qualifications in that line of work.
It was a pleasure to talk to Jamie, as well as being a pretty decent rugby player he’s a very big sports fan, with cricket being high up on his list of favourite things to do. He’s played a few games for his local team as well as against and for Bunbury, including turning out at Lords! with over 100 caps behind him at the tender age of 24 there’s going to be a lot more to come from Jamie George!