Jamie George admits England have to work on how to handle being favourites

PA

Jamie George believes England must learn how to thrive as favourites after they struggled to live up to that billing in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final at Twickenham.

It took a sudden death penalty by Owen Farrell in the second-half of extra-time to defeat a France side containing a mere 68 caps and who were only 29 seconds away from registering a famous against-the-odds victory.

England added the Autumn Nations Cup to the Six Nations title they won in October and have pieced together a winning run numbering eight Tests, their only defeat of 2020 inflicted in Paris at the start of the year.

But mirroring the World Cup final 12 months ago when they were expected to topple South Africa only to crumble on the day, the favourites tag once again proved to be a heavy burden in front of 2,000 noisy fans at Twickenham.

“That’s actually something we speak quite a lot about as a team,” said George, as he reflected on the need to improve when England are predicted to win.

“We have some specific meetings where the players speak – and we had a very open and honest conversation about exactly that.

“We felt like we have more to give when we go in as favourites against the underdogs.

Owen Farrell kicked the sudden death penalty that toppled France
Owen Farrell kicked the sudden death penalty that toppled France

“Actually we probably didn’t do that against France, but again it’s a great learning for us going forwards.

“The more we win, the more we will be favourites going into games and we need to work it out.

“One thing I’m really confident about is that we’ve got the right people in place and the team is going in the right direction.”

Eddie Jones insisted that a year ago England would have crumbled under the pressure in the same circumstances, a belief born out of his side’s habit of imploding when in front.

On this occasion, a diving maul scored by Luke Cowan-Dickie inside the final minute that was converted by Farrell averted the imminent danger of an embarrassing defeat. The champions then seized control of a one-sided period of extra-time.

“We had a lot more control when things weren’t going our way. Twelve months ago when things weren’t going our way we probably got a little bit rattled,” George said.

“As a leadership group we probably didn’t use to handle things as well as we could, whereas against France it felt like the leaders did a great job in making sure everyone stayed calm and in control and trusted in the process.

“France were exceptional but we dug in and showed some resilience to get over the line.”

France's shadow team surpassed expectations at Twickenham
France's shadow team surpassed expectations at Twickenham

England launch their Six Nations defence in only two months’ time when Scotland visit Twickenham on February 6.

“This campaign has been a really positive one. Week by week and tournament by tournament we’re seeing massive strides in us as a team,” George said.

“The resilience of the team – definitely against France – has grown from the Six Nations until now.

“I feel like we’re in a really good place and the next Six Nations is just around the corner.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of this team and it’s exciting to see where we can take things off the back of a positive autumn.”

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