Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Kitchener pride at leading England

Graham Kitchener admits captaining England for the first time will help ease the pain of Leicester missing their first Aviva Premiership final in a decade.

The Tigers lock revealed leading the England XV against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday will be just the second time he has captained any team in four years.

The uncapped 24-year-old conceded Leicester were at a loss for how to react to their 21-20 Premiership semi-final defeat to Northampton Saints on Friday, May 16.

Now the former Worcester second row will hope to ease that frustration by leading the England XV to victory in Sunday's non-cap international.

"It was so gutting on that Friday night, then I got the England call on Monday, so it was great to know then that the season wasn't quite over," said Kitchener after Tom Wood's last-gasp try dumped Leicester out of league action.

"It's another couple of weeks onto the season and another game, it's a chance to try to put some things right from that semi-final I guess.

"We didn't really know what to do with ourselves in that week at Leicester, so we came in for a meeting and said goodbye to the guys that are leaving.

"We've been used to making the final in the last 10 seasons, but in some ways that's good for us as it forces us to confront what we got wrong.

"So hopefully we'll address all that and come back stronger."

Saracens and Northampton will battle out Saturday's Premiership showpiece, but Kitchener admitted palpable relief at being involved at Twickenham the very next day.

Proud to lead the England side coached by Jon Callard, Kitchener said: "I was over the moon when I was asked; Stuart suggested that might be the case last week but that wasn't confirmed until Monday.

"It's a massive privilege for me.

"I had a meeting with Stuart to say they were considering me.

"Then I had a quiet little chat with Joe Lydon after training on Monday, and he just said 'if you're happy to do it we'd like to give it to you'.

"It's not something you can refuse, is it!

"I haven't been captain often to be fair.

"I captained Worcester in a pre-season friendly when I was 20 to be fair, but that's the last time I've done it.

"The line-out role I tend to lead, and that's a fairly similar job, so I don't want to change too much in what I do, just try to lead by example and if something needs saying I'll say it."

England's initial 30-man party to tour New Zealand jetted out on Tuesday, with a second batch to follow on Monday after the weekend fixtures.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster could take as many as 15 Saracens and Northampton players after the Premiership final, but that contingent will miss the June 7 first Test in Auckland.

Lancaster has refused to rule out calling up England XV squad members too, and Kitchener admitted that remains a driving force for the side to face the world-famous invitational Barbarians outfit.

"We trained with the guys who flew out on Tuesday last week, and when they fly out you find yourself thinking 'I wish I was on that plane'," he said.

"So there's plenty of incentive still to impress this weekend.

"I think for this group of boys first and foremost we've got to focus on Sunday, if our performance is good then as individuals we can shine.

"That's the way to give ourselves the best chance.

"Structure will get us over the line on Sunday, that's important for us.

"We can't get caught up in the occasion, the crowd want to see the ball chucked around but while we've got the players to do that, first and foremost we've got to stick to our structures and play the simple rugby really effectively."


From Belfast Telegraph