Great to see Courtney Lawes back in the England side for this weekend’s showdown with Scotland in the RBS Six Nations championship.
The combative Lawes is a brute around the rugby park, putting in spine-chilling and often try-saving tackles. Quick across the ground, the Northampton second row, who starts alongside Dave Attwood, is the sort of hard as nails enforcer who strikes fear into opponents.
Under-rated by many, a man who doesn’t seek the limelight, but a great player who would be first on my team sheet every time.
And back in the match day squad is his fellow lock, Geoff Parling, who will be itching to sort out the Scots – sure to emerge off the bench at some point. Lawes has recovered from an ankle problem that kept him out for ten weeks while Parling had been sidelined with a head injury.
England v Scotland is the world’s oldest international contest and all is set up for an almighty battle between the foes.
Both sides are reeling from defeats – England beaten by Ireland; Scotland losing humiliatingly to Italy.
Both sets of players have had their backsides kicked by the respective coaching staffs.
Throw into the mix ancient enmities, the failed independence vote earlier in the year, the continued cocky SNP bigotry … and there is going to be little love lost between the sides at Twickenham on Saturday. Bound to be plenty of banter between the supporters too with, I suspect, the VIP corporate hospitality tents will be bouncing as the pints and the drams are sunk!
For England, the only other change in the starting XV sees the return of Mike Brown at full-back now that he has recovered from concussion.
Lawes, aged 26, who made his Test debut in 2009, has been missed.
“Courtney has matured as person and as a player,” said England forwards coach, Graham Rowntree. “You can’t hide what he brings for us physically.
“He is back to his best. We have riches in our second-row resources at the moment with a lot of athletes there but Courtney is a special player.
“We all know what he can do carrying-wise, athletically in defence and at the lineout but I am not worried about his work-rate or having to balance that somehow. He has been doing the tight work yet still performing his stand-out bits in the loose. That is what you get with him.”
Parling is not far behind.
“Geoff has a great game understanding and an ability to bring out the best in guys around him,” said Rowntree. “He is very wily, a clever footballer and has great leadership qualities.”
Rowntree did not hide his disappointment at the performance in Dublin and promised a bounce-back from captain, Chris Robshaw, and his men.
“We’ve been happy with Chris this last six months and he was outstanding against Wales,” Rowntree told the Daily Telegraph. “Amongst a lot of other guys, he did not have his best game in Ireland. We have had frank reviews and I am sure we will have a reaction from Chris this weekend.”
Scotland too are hurting – they have not won at Twickenham since 1983.
But captain Greig Laidlaw insists there is no reason why Vern Cotter’s men should have an inferiority complex.
Emotions are running high though, especially after team-mate Stuart Hogg slammed a lack of respect for Scottish rugby south of the border.
Laidlaw made a similar point before the start of the Six Nations, based on the experiences of his first season with Gloucester, following his move from Edinburgh.
”Respect has to be earned and that is something we’ll be aiming to do,” he said. “We’re not far away from getting things right but I’m getting pretty sick of telling people that, I really am. It’s up to us as players to step up, go again and put in that performance against England. We have had some tough talking from the coaches this week and rightly so since the defeat to Italy. But it has been good as we have been shooting ourselves in the foot a lot of the time and we have to change.”
Laidlaw also has two personal reasons for wanting to lead Scotland to what would be a famous victory.
The first is to emulate his uncle, Roy Laidlaw, who helped his team to a Calcutta Cup win back in 1983. The other is to wipe out the memory of last year’s 20-0 defeat by England at BT Murrayfield when he arguably had his worst performance in a Scotland shirt.
I expect him to be disappointed and, turning Flower of Scotland on its head, Scotland to be “sent hamewart, tae think again”.
England match-day 23 to face Scotland
15. Mike Brown (Harlequins, 35 caps)
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, 7 caps)
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby, 9 caps)
12. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints, 10 caps)
11. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 6 caps)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby, 9 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 45 caps)
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 29 caps)
2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints, 64 caps)
3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 48 caps)
4. David Attwood (Bath Rugby, 19 caps)
5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 36 caps)
6. James Haskell (Wasps, 56 caps)
7. Chris Robshaw (captain, Harlequins, 35 caps)
8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 15 caps)
16. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 20 caps)
17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 18 caps)
18. Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons, 8 caps)
19. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers, 21 caps)
20. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 34 caps)
21. Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens, 19 caps)
22. Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks, 10 caps)
23. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby, 19 caps)