Lawes wiser at 50 caps but still destructive

Date published: November 10 2016

Paths to 50 Test caps have certainly been smoother but at last Courtney Lawes will reach a half century for England this weekend.

Only 27, the Northampton lock is playing under his third England head coach having been handed a debut by Martin Johnson back in 2009.

It didn’t take long for Lawes to earn a reputation for being one of the hardest tacklers in the game, and a YouTube favourite as a result, with that element of his game still present today. Yet reaching a half century for his country has been no picnic.

A knee injury as recent as last month threatened to rule him out once again, with his shoulder and ankle also causing him to spend more time watching from the stands than he would have liked over the years. Fortunately this time his recovery has gone to plan.

“There is certainly a lot more competition than there was back in the day. You have to appreciate every cap you get and do your best for the team,” Lawes said.

“I feel like I could have got there quite a while ago if didn’t get injured so much. I’m just really happy to have made it here and to have played so many games for England.

“It’s been eight years, nearly, since my debut so I have certainly done it the hard way. Missed a fair few caps along the way.

“I did [the knee injury] about a month ago and carried on playing and it kept blowing up. I had to get the swelling down and it got to the point where I couldn’t get it down.

“I knew I just needed time to get the swelling out and rest. I’ve been able to train fully this week and it’s fine. There is always doubt, but I was quite confident I could train this week.”

during the Investec Challenge Series match between England and Australia at Twickenham on November 7, 2009 in London, England.

LONDON, ENGLAND: A dejected Courtney Lawes of England shakes hands with Benn Robinson of Australia during the Investec Challenge Series match between England and Australia at Twickenham on November 7, 2009. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Those big hits from Lawes might still catch the eye, however more thought now goes into them than seven years ago, when he admits he went around “throwing my body into everyone.”

The extra responsibility of calling the lineout, under the guidance of England forward coach Steve Borthwick, has made Lawes a more refined player. Although one that still makes his mark.

“I am still pretty care-free. Obviously I have got more responsibility when have to call the lineout. But I’m still really excited to get ball in my hands and play some rugby,” he adds.

“I am still relying on my physicality and if and when I have to call the lineout I have the ability to do that. I do not go around like I was when I was 20 throwing my body into everyone. It’s a lot more technique now and picking and choosing my shots. You can’t fly into everyone as it doesn’t work that well.

“I’m very comfortable carrying now and using my footwork. I think that I’m in the top three ball carriers for Northampton Saints which is good for me, much better than I have been during the last couple of years. I’m going back towards my younger days where I used to carry all the time and that’s where I want to be.”

It feels like some time since Lawes was considered as one of the world’s best locks, partly down to his injury struggles and rise of Maro Itoje and George Kruis in England’s engine room.

Trying to copy the game’s great second rows to get back to that status, namely Brodie Retallick and Eben Etzebeth, he admits would be a non-starter given his shape and size, at least when it comes to ball in hand.

Lawes has faced Etzebeth before at Test level and the physicality the young South African offers is no secret. That said, stopping him isn’t either. Lawes will run out at Twickenham on a landmark day for his career facing a significant challenge.

“There’s good second-row ball carriers, but there are not loads of them. I’m a different athlete to Retallick and to Etzebeth and I go about my ball carrying in a very different way to them as well,” Lawes explains.

“I can’t look at them to copy them because I’m not as tall or as wide but I am more agile and quicker. So there are certain things that I can do differently to them.

“[Etzebeth] is a big guy and he runs hard and straight. It’s about technique, your height in the tackle and things like that. I’m not going to fly into him and try and smoke him but I can certainly put him down and make the next guy’s job a bit easier on my team.

“We have spoken about how physical they are and how their mindset changes when they come to England and we will have to deal with that. Of course we have strategies around the pack to deal with their physicality, and hopefully we will put that into effect.”

by Ben Coles