Return of Lawes gives Lancaster reasons to be cheerful

Courtney Lawes.Courtney Lawes.
Courtney Lawes.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster hailed England’s collective second row strength which will be bolstered by the return of Courtney Lawes for the RBS Six Nations clash with Scotland.

Lawes will make his first international appearance since facing Australia last autumn after winning his battle with an ankle problem, proving his fitness in two recent club games for Northampton.

Full-back Mike Brown also returns after missing the 19-9 defeat by Ireland because of the concussion he suffered against Italy, replacing Alex Goode in the starting XV. With England bidding to resurrect their challenge for the Six Nations title that was dealt a potentially fatal setback in Dublin, Lancaster chose to hail the strength in the previously depleted second row.

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“I think there’s a collective level of experience that we’ve brought in, not just with Courtney but with Geoff Parling on the bench,” said Lancaster.

“Leading into the Six Nations we had quite a lot of injuries in the second row at one time. Dave Attwood, who has done a brilliant job, and we had Nick (Easter) on the bench – but having those three experienced second rows now in the side with Geoff to come on is great.

“Courtney was fantastic for us in the November internationals with his presence around the field but also his presence in the set piece now is big for us.”

Lancaster revealed that Brown had been “exceptional” in training and will be firing on all cylinders come Saturday.

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“Mike Brown comes back in having trained well and got through that concussion,” added Lancaster.

“Alex Goode understandably is disappointed but I think it’s right to bring Mike back into this game and he’s looking forward to playing.

“He had a bad knock to his head and we had to do right by him but it was definitely the right decision not to involve him in the Ireland game. But, certainly now, he’s been chomping at the bit.

“He trained really well on Friday and we’ve had two good days and he was exceptional in training today so he’ll be ready come Saturday.”

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England kick-off against Scotland at Twickenham at 5pm and Lancaster plans to ensure his side are fully focused on that clash and not distracted by the result from the earlier kick-off – and potential title decider – between Wales and Ireland.

When asked how he would stop his players from being drawn into that match, he said: “Turn all of the TVs off in the training room.”

Despite England’s title hopes not entirely resting in their hands, Lancaster is positive about the quality he now has at his disposal as the Rugby World Cup approaches.

“You forget about some of the players we’ve had injured and bringing them back into the equation as we have done this week,” he added.

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“Manu (Tuilagi) has been in camp and Owen Farrell has been in camp, we’ve had Henry Slade in camp and Sam Burgess has been training with us so you look around the changing room now and you think: ‘there’s a high quality squad developing here’.”

England team to face Scotland: M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), L Burrell (Northampton), J Nowell (Exeter); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), D Attwood (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), K Brookes (Newcastle), G Parling (Leicester), T Wood (Northampton), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), D Cipriani (Sale), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).