George Martin: My team-mates call me Mr Incredible

George Martin - George Martin: My team-mates call me Mr Incredible
George Martin - Getty Images/Malcolm Couzens

It does not seem right that George Martin, all 6ft 6in and 18-and-a-half stone of him, is getting around these days by folding himself into a minuscule Volkswagen Up!. The exclamation point in the car’s name almost emphasises the comedy of Martin defying physics in order to simply get behind the wheel. We are talking about someone who as a self-confessed “fair-weather” golfer now owns specially-made extra-long clubs from Ping so that he does not have to keep hunching himself down to play a shot.

“Ches [Ollie Chessum] always takes the mick out of me and says it’s like Mr Incredible climbing into a car,” Martin explains, with a smile across his face, about a vehicle which seems small enough for Martin to be bench-pressing it, not driving it. After 12 years and with over 100,000 miles on the clock, everyone should be relieved to hear Martin say of the surely creaking Up!, “hopefully I’m getting something sorted soon”.

England are just grateful to have Martin back in the mix. He returned off the bench at Murrayfield and aside from one uncharacteristic knock-on from a restart – although that did sum up England’s error-filled demise – he looked typically lively and imposing.

When Martin departed after 53 minutes in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against South Africa having injured his medial collateral ligament, England were notably weakened. The highlight was a monster tackle in tandem with Ben Earl to force a knock-on by Franco Mostert but throughout he was a menace, a career peak so far for a young player who was first capped as teenager under Eddie Jones back in 2020 after only a handful of matches for Leicester Tigers.

Martin is now 22, has won 11 caps and is going to pick up many more while, by the sounds of things, attempting to keep a low-profile and graft away. Recent spells out with injury have been spent on improving his breakdown work – “causing destruction” – while also “getting my hands on the ball more... how I can be more effective and more abrasive in contact”. Richard Hill, who knows a fair bit about what makes an elite forward, recently described Martin as a good, old-fashioned Leicester forward in the mould of Richards, Johnson, Kay, Deacon, Back, Corry et al. “A bit hard-nosed. Just do my job. Work for the team. That’s it,” Martin says.

Given his age Martin is too young to remember watching Johnson, his initial Leicester memories centring on watching Manu Tuilagi and Logovi’i Mulipola flatten people at Welford Road. When Martin reached 16 and began being picked early for age-group sides, it dawned on him that one day he might be running out for the famous club at that famous ground.

Being able to do that alongside Leicester and England team-mates, and good friends in Chessum and Freddie Steward is a brilliant bonus. Before his most recent injury Leicester had begun playing Chessum and Martin together in the second row, a goal the pair had set for some time. Martin’s weight gain in recent years, adding about a stone, means that he is now very much a lock – he has actually not started at blindside flanker since the end of 2022.

“It has been a long time coming,” he says of their second-row partnership. “We have both been at each other for ages. We have always wanted to play in the row together and hopefully we can play in the row for many years to come. It would be good. He is a great lad and I’ve got a lot of time for him.”

George Martin (left) and Freddie Steward - George Martin: My team-mates call me Mr Incredible
Martin is good friends with England and Leicester team-mate Freddie Steward (right) - PA/Mike Egerton

With Steward, friends and team-mates since they were teenagers, there was a moment walking back from training at England’s Rugby World Cup training base in Le Touquet where the significance of what they had achieved so far hit home.

“It’s amazing. I remember me and Fred had a nice moment where we couldn’t believe we were here. It’s just mental. We were just thinking we’d been mates since we were 14 and grown up together and now we’re at a World Cup, you’re just like, wow.”

This week rugby appears to be learning to love its physical edge again, based on soundbites from those in power and behind the marketing departments. Martin fits the mould when he says that “physicality of the game is the best part”.

Playing alongside the likes of Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese at Leicester under Steve Borthwick taught a young Martin “to embrace the physicality and enjoy it”, relishing that semi-final against the Springboks despite England losing by a point. “They’re the games, the physical games, the proper Test matches where it’s so physical, it’s just all man against man, and it’s class.”

Off the field Martin seems happy keeping his hood up and walking around Abbey Park in Leicester without too much attention. On the field, he is going to be a menace for England for years to come. Just someone for goodness sake get him a new car.

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