England’s George Furbank reflects on rollercoaster introduction to international rugby
‘It is a bit surreal. I’ve still only played 30 games for Saints... I wasn’t really expecting a call-up’
One of Eddie Jones’s big decisions of the Six Nations so far has been to throw George Furbank in at the deep end. The full-back ‘benefitted’ from Anthony Watson’s calf injury to make his international debut in England’s opening Six Nations defeat, where he found himself unsurprisingly targeted by the French half-backs as a perceived weakness in the ranks.
It was an approach that worked for Les Bleus, with the blustery conditions in Paris only adding to the pressure on the 23-year-old debutant. But a sign of international class is the way players are able to bounce back, and in the midst of Storm Ciara at a Murrayfield Stadium baying for Calcutta Cup blood, Furbank ensured he would not become the story for the second week in a row.
An assured performance in dreadful conditions has helped Furbank to settle into the squad, and with another week to prepare for the visit of Ireland in what will be his Twickenham debut, the Northampton Saints full-back can finally take some time to reflect on a rollercoaster fortnight.
“It’s intense, it’s tough, it’s challenging. It’s different to club rugby but I’ve enjoyed it,” said Furbank “I’ve fitted in pretty well. The boys have helped massively, I didn’t really know what to expect coming in.
“It is a bit surreal. I’ve still only played 30 games for Saints. So even though things had been going reasonably well in the Premiership I wasn’t really expecting a call-up. To get it was slightly surreal in itself. I wasn’t really expecting to be involved in the first game at all to be honest.”
It is reassuring then to here that Furbank is open and honest enough to admit how the sudden rise from Premiership prospect to England starter affected him.
“The nerves were well and truly going on Sunday morning,” he said. “It was different to anything I’d played in front of before. I’ve probably played in front of 20,000-25,000 at most. That was all a bit crazy and potentially I let that get to me a little bit during the game. But last week I felt more myself, more settled.
“(The conditions) didn’t help. I think I’ve only played one game like that before, down at Gloucester in the Premiership Cup. It wasn’t nice out there - guessing where the ball was going to go.”
Adjusting to his new surroundings has been the steepest learning curve for Furbank so far. Since emerging from the Saints academy and forcing his way last season into the first team, Furbank has been used to playing in front of 15,000 crowds. Not so long again, that number was even lower, with the full-back cutting his teeth on loan at Cambridge, where attendances weren’t so generous.
“I played at Cambridge for two seasons, when they were in National Two, then obviously they went up to National One the year after, then five or six games at Nottingham the season after,” Furbank said, adding that the number of fans attending games while out on load normally ranged between 1,000-2,000.
“I was struggling with injuries a bit but Chris Boyd came in and I managed to get fit and got given an opportunity.
“The biggest thing is not being able to hear each other. At times Jonny (May) was screaming at me or I was screaming at him or Elliot (Daly) and you can’t hear each other. You’ve kind of got to be head on a swivel the whole time trying to make contact with them another way. But it was kind of cool. I liked the knowledge. If you get on top for a bit and the crowd goes quiet you think ‘okay, we’re in now’.
“Wherever I made my debut it was going to be challenging because of all of the outside factors. But France away is a particularly tough one. Jonny said to me the week after ‘look that is one of the toughest challenges you could get first up. You’ll be a way better player for it’.
“I felt a bit more myself (at Murrayfield), more composed, more clear-headed and that allowed me to play my game and I was a bit more vocal on the pitch and sharper.”