- Lawes relishing starting role on Saturday at Twickenham
- The line out will be a crucial battleground, says flanker
England starter Courtney Lawes admits that there is pressure on him to put in a big performance against France on Saturday but that he will be taking the occasion in his stride.
The 23-year-old was named by Stuart Lancaster as one of three changes to the starting line-up that beat Ireland 12-6 in Dublin, with Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley also getting the nod.
It will be a series of firsts for Lawes on Saturday as the match will be his first start in the RBS 6 Nations; his first ever start at blindside flanker; and his first start under Lancaster’s 14-game tenure.
The Northampton Saints star has notched up 17 international caps since his debut in 2010, but it has been a stop-start career in an England shirt so far for Lawes due to injury. Lawes missed the 2011 RBS Six Nations with a knee injury, and although he featured in three games in the 2011 World Cup (including a match against France in the quarter-final), he could only manage a bit-part role in the 2012 RBS Six Nations before being sidelined again with knee problems.
A substitute performance in England’s win over New Zealand last autumn kick-started his international career again and now Lawes is relishing the opportunity Lancaster has offered him on Saturday, saying he will deal with the occasion by keep things simple and do the basics well.
“Saturday will be a bit more special,” he said. “There is a bit more pressure on me to perform. I have been trusted to come in and play and it’s my first start under Stuart as well so there’s a bit of pressure but you have just got to take it in your stride and do what you normally do for your club. It’s just another game at the end of the day.
“I do have a point to prove but I can’t think about that at the minute. I have just got to do the basics well and like I said if I get shots I have to take them.”
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Lawes’s inclusion in Saturday’s starting XV is not only due to his formidable physical presence – 6’7” tall and 17 stone – but also due to his versatility as a forward. In previous starts for England he has played at lock, but his athleticism and ability to read the game means the back row beckons for him on Saturday.
The line out is a main battleground ahead of the match, with France achieving an 86 per cent success rate so far in the tournament compared to England’s 76 per cent. The inclusion of Hartley at hooker is further evidence that Lancaster and forwards coach Graham Rowntree are aiming to disrupt the French line out and Lawes is confident that England have the players to do so.
“I don’t know if there’s a more athletic lineout than ours at the moment,” said Lawes. “We have got me, [Joe]Launchbury, Geoff [Parling] and Woody [Tom Wood], it’s unbelievable. We have got four great jumpers there and I hope we can show that in the game. They love a lineout, they love mauling, they love scrumming and set piece is crucial. We have got to take some of their ball in the game and look after our own.
“They are gonna come at us so hard I reckon. They have put such a big team out there for it and they are gonna be so physical. We need to match them and need to better them and we need to make sure we keep moving and keep them working, and then it will pay dividends in the last 20 I think.
So far France have lost both of their matches in the Six Nations, failing to beat Italy or Wales. While many had tipped them as pre-tournament favourites they are now chasing their first victory. But despite their poor run so far Lawes knows from his contrasting experiences against French clubs in the Heineken Cup with Northampton, that they can never be underestimated.
During this season's Heineken Cup Northampton lost the first leg away at Castres 21-16 after a strong first-half display from the home side, but on the return leg at Franklins Gardens Saints managed to overpower the French side to win 18-12.
“They are unpredictable. If you go and play the likes of Castres they can either be unbelievable or not there at all and I think at the weekend they [France] are probably going to be there. It’s going to be one of those ones. It’s their Six Nations. You never really know what you are going to get with the French but being beaten by Italy at the start is a big example. We will have to wait and see.”