Courtney Lawes ready to be at the heart of new-look England

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England's Courtney Lawes during training. - REUTERS
England's Courtney Lawes during training. - REUTERS

Courtney Lawes insists he is ready to step out of the leadership shadows and deputise for Owen Farrell as England captain this autumn if his country calls.

It is understood the Northampton Saints forward has been named in a new streamlined senior leadership group of four players for the autumn Test series, with England head coach Eddie Jones set to unveil his squad on Monday.

Lawes may have captained his club side on only a handful of occasions, but England insiders say he is considered as one of the leading contenders to assume the captaincy for any reason that Farrell is not involved in the starting XV during the three-Test campaign against Tonga, South Africa and Australia.

And the 32-year-old, who has won 87 caps for England and played in three World Cup campaigns, insists he can draw on his wealth of experience to provide a greater voice in the leadership of the squad, having previously done so from the fringes. The promotion of Lawes, who started all three Tests for the Lions at blindside flanker, is one of a number of intriguing changes as Jones attempts to refresh and re-energise his squad following the disappointment of last season’s fifth-place finish in the Six Nations Championship. 

“To be given a more important leadership role with England is obviously a great honour, and I am going to continue to help Faz as much as I can and we will see how we go,” Lawes said. “I have been giving my input for a good few years, but now I am a little older and people are noticing how much experience I have got and noticing that I have got that capability. Previously, I have said things from the background, if they need to be said, basically.

“I’m there for skippers, someone to lean on because I’ve got a lot of experience. I have been in that role for a good amount of time, especially at Saints.

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“Not a lot of people on the outside obviously see my leadership role, but that’s not what it is there for. And that’s fine.

“As long as I’m contributing to the team, which I think I do and I have been for the past few years, that’s my job.”

And would he feel comfortable if he had to deputise for Farrell as captain? “Yeah, I’d be fine, no worries,” Lawes added. “I have skippered the Saints. My role at the club is very similar. I am not a skipper, but I am there to help the skipper as much as possible. I am really excited for the boys and to see how our new tactics and team strategy going forward works out.

“There were a lot of new faces when we got together for a meeting for admin and a bit of training, and so a lot of new people to get to know, which is great.

“So, I’m looking forward to being given a bit more of a leadership role this time and can’t wait to get stuck in.”

Quite how many new faces will still be present when Jones names his squad remains to be seen.

By omitting high-profile players such as George Ford, Jamie George and Mako and Billy Vunipola from his 45-man training squad last month, Jones appeared to be intent on moving in a new direction this autumn as the countdown begins to the World Cup.

Yet the casualties have since done everything they can to force their way back into contention, and Jones will have been impressed by their response. All four have delivered hugely impressive performances for their clubs, climaxing this weekend with their respective roles in the huge victories for Leicester and Saracens, and it seems improbable that they will not all have earned recalls.

Maro Itoje of Saracens (C) celebrates with team mates Jamie George and Owen Farrell (R) after scoring their first try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Saracens at The Recreation Ground on October 17, 2021 in Bath, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Maro Itoje of Saracens (C) celebrates with team mates Jamie George and Owen Farrell (R) after scoring their first try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Saracens at The Recreation Ground on October 17, 2021 in Bath, England. - GETTY IMAGES

And yet the conundrum facing Jones is that he already has to reduce the size of the 45-man to around 34 players.

For that reason it will be one of the most anticipated of his tenure, given the competition for places and the impact the selections are likely to have on the squad’s style of play.

It is thought that several drafts of the squad have already been drawn up over the past week, and the final version is not expected to be complete until after discussions with Jones and his assistant coaches on Monday morning. What seems certain, though, is that when Jones comes to select his match-day squads, there will be a fresh look to the line-ups, with Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt and Harry Randall to be given opportunities to prove they can translate their Premiership form onto the international stage.

The opening match against Tonga gives Jones greater flexibility to experiment and that could see the likes of Freddie Steward, the Leicester full-back, and Louis Lynagh, the Harlequins wing, also involved.

The new coaching ticket of Richard Cockerill, Anthony Seibold and Matt Proudfoot will be given their first chance to influence the game plan when the squad travel to Jersey for a week-long camp next Monday.

Their first job, though, is to settle upon the right squad.

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