England captain George playing for mum's memory vs. Scotland

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EDINBURGH, Scotland -- When head coach Steve Borthwick offered Jamie George the chance to become England captain in early January, Jamie turned to his mum, Jane, for guidance.

That same day he'd been offered the biggest honour of his career, came the news Jane had lung cancer. Jamie's first instinct was to wonder whether it was a good idea to head into England camp.

"When I told my mum and dad about me being captain and I was saying I was not sure if it was the right thing or not given the circumstances, my mum was literally distraught," he told reporters on Thursday. "She was like, 'you can't not take this because of me.'"

Tragically, from there, Jane's deterioration was brutally quick. Heading into this Six Nations, she'd never missed one of Jamie's matches, but as he led England out in Rome and then at Twickenham against Wales on Feb. 10, she watched on from the TV, too ill to travel.

"That was really tough in itself," Jamie said.

The day after the Wales win, Jamie and his family found out her cancer was terminal. Just four days later on Wednesday, Feb. 14, she passed away.

He's found solace in rugby. This Saturday, 10 days on from losing his mum, Jamie George will lead England out against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup.

"When you step on to the field, everything that has happened away from it, it's actually quite a nice feeling to be able to forget everything that has happened previously," he said. "Of course I'm going to use motivation, I want to win for her and I want to win in her memory as much as I possibly can."

Jamie wanted to talk about his mum this week. The England captain spoke to a small group of media on Thursday evening in Edinburgh, 48 hours or so out from their Six Nations match against Scotland. The Calcutta Cup is one of the most storied fixtures in the sport. A fierce rivalry puts pride on the line and produces the sort of games that Jamie's mum loved watching.

"She was always there," he said. "She never missed it. We had quite a few heated debates.

"She was quite vocal when I first came into playing rugby -- especially professional rugby. It must be a difficult transition; you go from watching your son play for Haileybury School in front of 12 people to the following year I was playing at Vicarage Road for Saracens in front of 20,000 people. Her volume level didn't change, despite sitting in a family box with everyone else's families around!"

Jane was there watching every step of Jamie's Saracens and England career, from the man breaking through in international rugby, to starting front-rower and his journey to 87 Test caps.

"It goes to show what an incredible sport this is, the power of sport and until the day she died she was a huge Saracens and England rugby fan," Jamie says. "It is amazing to have been able to have given her such an incredible life, travelling around the world following my games. Her and my dad [Ian] would travel everywhere and I know she found a lot of joy following this team."

Rugby has always important to the George family.

"Rugby was a massive part of her life, I think it has kept our family together in certain ways and it goes to show what an incredible sport this is," Jamie said. "She was the biggest rugby fan on earth, she loved this team, loved watching me play, she never missed a game.

"The text I've got from her before my first game [as captain] is something I will treasure forever. She said it was the proudest day of her life. Given what she was going through, to still be able to put a smile on her face is huge."

Since his mum's diagnosis, every time there was a break in Six Nations camp, Jamie would go and visit her.

"The first question she would ask me is, 'How is Marcus Smith getting on?' She sort of lost her voice towards the end so conversations were difficult, but the few conversations we would have were largely around the team. That probably summed her up.

"We were able to have some pretty horrible conversations that no one ever wants to have but there were some amazing conversations I had with my mum towards the end. Those sort of things put everything into perspective."

Two days after she passed away, England had an open training session at Twickenham.

"She passed on Wednesday, Thursday I went home and my dad was like, 'do you think you'll make this training session? I think it'd be good for you to get back with the boys.'"

Jamie was there leading the team, signing autograph after autograph for his fans. No one in the stands would have known what he was dealing with. It was only later that day, after the session, that he posted on Instagram about his mum passing away.

The England team rallied around their captain. He has incredibly close friends in the squad, those who were standing alongside him when he got married. But there are the new faces in the group who have bought into the culture that he's brought since taking on the captaincy. He feels their closeness is a sign of promise at what they're building as a group. But it's also a sign of how highly regarded he is, both within the team and in the sport.

"Jamie George has got a strength in him that I think some people underestimate," Borthwick said. "He has a quiet strength that is phenomenal and it is one of the great assets that makes him a brilliant captain. He has had to be really strong. All the players are right behind him and supportive of him. I would describe him as one of the strongest people I have ever met."

His teammates echo this.

"It is the sign of an incredible man, an incredible leader," fullback George Furbank said. "It has been a pretty hard time for him and his family. To go through that and then to come back into camp and lead the boys with no real difference is incredibly impressive. It has given the boys extra motivation to galvanise around him."

But for the captain, the sense is that he doesn't want the attention to be on him on Saturday but instead on the collective. Yet when he walks the team out and spots his dad and two brothers in the stands, memories of his mum will be at the forefront of his mind.

"It's what my mum would have wanted," he said. "Wherever she is now she will be looking down telling everyone that is there that her son is the England captain. I know for a fact that meant a huge amount to her.

"Whenever I've played, I've always wanted to make my family proud. It's been a huge driver for me. That won't change this weekend -- it will probably be enhanced this weekend. It will be emotional for me coming out. It will be the first game that she won't be there."

When the first ball goes up in the air, Jamie will go into game-mode. He'll be going from lineout to lineout, carry to carry, doing what he's done throughout his career in his journey to becoming one of the best forwards in world rugby, finding solace in the sport which he's given so much. He was never going to miss this. Jane simply wouldn't have let him.

"For me, I have wanted to throw myself into this," Jamie said. "It has been an amazing outlet for me and it is what my mum would want. It is certainly what I want -- playing for this team has been the highlight of my life and it always will be. Being able to captain this team is without doubt the highlight of my career and she would have wanted me to throw myself into this.

"She spoke about how proud she was of me. She wasn't just proud of my achievements, she was proud of how I have gone about it and that won't change despite everything that has happened. My motivation is as high as ever and coming back into camp has been incredible because of the incredible people we have here.

"When I first became captain, I spoke a lot about showing how much it means to you to play for England and what an amazing impact you can have on people's lives. I have seen it first-hand. My mum was on her deathbed talking about the England rugby team and how proud she was of me being able to do what I do. That's absolutely incredible. She will be with me in some capacity on Saturday and that means a huge amount to me."