Stuart Lancaster’s decision to give Courtney Lawes his first Test start in the English back row will give British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland something different to watch at Twickenham on Saturday.
Gatland is taking in the third round matches in the RBS 6 Nations between England and France and Scotland and Ireland this weekend as he runs the rule over potential Lions candidates ahead of this summer’s 125th anniversary tour to Hong Kong and Australia.
And at the end of a week in which he received some bad news about the recovery from injury of Ulster and Ireland blindside flanker Stephen Ferris, Lawes’ experiment with the No 6 on his back couldn’t have come at a better time.
Last season’s RBS 6 Nations player of the tournament, Dragons and Wales blindside Dan Lydiate, is also making his way back from injury and Leicester Tigers and England’s Tom Croft, who played so well in the back row for the Lions in South Africa four years ago, is also feeling his way back into the game after a neck injury.
So Lancaster’s bold move to switch the 6ft 7in, 18st 8lbs Lawes from the second to the back row will give Gatland plenty of food for thought as he watches England try to make it three from three in the championship and stay on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003.
“One of the main reasons I’ve been put in the team is to bring some physicality because the French are going to bring it as well. You can see from their pack and centres they want to try and bully us – it’s really important we put a stop to that as soon as possible,” said Lawes.
“As much as people don’t like to admit it, there are people that you don’t want to run at and you will always be aware of as a player when they are in the opposite team. I’d like to be one of those people, but I don’t know if I am.
“I’m not going to big myself up or anything, but I’d certainly aspire to be one of those people that you have to watch out for.”
Although Lawes has never lined up in the back row for England, he has recent experience playing there for Northampton. He averages around four more tackles a game than when he plays in the second row.
“His line-speed and physicality as a defender, his acceleration on to the ball as a carrier shows me he is ready. From a set-piece point of view we have a 6ft 8in guy at the back of the lineout. Physically he is in the best shape I have seen him,” said Lancaster.