'Greatest achievement' - England rugby captain Jamie George

Dublin (AFP) - Jamie George said on Monday “pressure is a privilege” as he prepared to take over as England captain despite seeing the strain the position placed on close friend Owen Farrell.

Hooker George added leading England in the Six Nations, starting with their opener against Italy in Rome on February 3, will be the “greatest achievement of my life.”

Saracens team-mate Farrell will miss the Six Nations as he takes a mental health break from international rugby having captained England to a third-place finish at last year’s World Cup.

The 32-year-old fly-half was subjected to intense social media scrutiny leading into the tournament and was whistled by fans in France during the showpiece event.

England’s all-time leading points scorer Farrell, a veteran of 112 caps for his country, may have played his last international after it was announced on Monday he would be joining Paris-based Racing 92 at the end of the season.

Rugby Football Union regulations prevent players at overseas clubs being selected for England save in exceptional circumstances.

But George, speaking before Racing revealed Farrell would be heading to France, insisted he was ready to lead England after looking at “both sides of the coin” when asked to take on the captaincy by head coach Steve Borthwick.

“This is the greatest achievement of my life,” said the 33-year-old hooker at the Six Nations launch in Dublin.

“And I felt like it was a decision that if I had turned down for other reasons I would have absolutely regretted… I’m also hopeful that we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the Owen situation.

“A lot of people out there have a better understanding of the reality of life, the reality of professional rugby players, that we are all human beings. So I’m hopeful for a much more positive environment to be able to work in.”

George added: “I’m not hiding away from the fact there is additional pressure and responsibility.

“I personally think that pressure is a privilege.

“I spoke to Owen about it. He was probably one of the first people I told when Steve asked me. That was the natural thing to do because Owen and I are very, very close.

“The only thing he said to me was that if I needed anything, he is the first person I should call and that he would always be there to have a conversation. That is invaluable to me.”