England are confident that Courtney Lawes is ready to face South Africa in tomorrow’s QBE International at Twickenham following his recovery from concussion.
Lawes lasted just 23 minutes of last weekend’s 24-21 defeat by New Zealand until a blow to the head – his second of the game – resulted in him failing the pitchside concussion assessment.
The 25-year-old completed the graduated return to play protocol this week and was cleared to take his place in the starting XV yesterday morning.
Seven days after being concussed against New Zealand, Lawes will hurl himself at South Africa as injury-hit England seek a first victory in the fixture under head coach Stuart Lancaster.
“From my point of view, the whole process has been ratified at the highest level, and we’ve got to trust the process,” Lancaster said.
“Certainly from my dealings with Courtney this week, he’s been symptom free from Sunday really.
“But he’s gone through the graduated return to play – cycling, running, non-contact skills. He’s ticked every box, so it’s pretty comprehensive.
“And he and I and the medical team and everyone feel very happy that he’s ready to play, so it’s just process.”
When asked if Lawes played any role in training this week, Lancaster replied: “I don’t remember him being involved in any training. He wasn’t involved in contact training. He basically stood in the line-out.”
England’s resources at lock have been stretched by autumn-ending injuries to Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Ed Slater and they could ill-afford to lose another player in the position.
Lawes has been concussed on multiple occasions and the Northampton lock revealed the “splitting headache” he felt after the New Zealand game had cleared up by the following day.
“I didn’t have any memory loss over the weekend. I went off and obviously had a big egg on my head, which was quite painful, and I failed the numbers test that you have to do,” Lawes said.
“Basically I failed it because I couldn’t concentrate – because of the big egg on my head.
“There’s always a bit of doubt because you have to pass the CogSport test and you never truly know until you’ve done that, but I knew that I didn’t get knocked out and concussed as badly as I have done in the past. I was pretty confident that I would be able to play this week.
“I got hit in the eye (for the first blow to the head) so I couldn’t see anything, but I was fine, then I took a whack to the head.
“They give you four numbers that you have to tell them back in reverse, then five and six. It’s a tough test.
“I didn’t really have any symptoms, other than a splitting headache after I got hit in the head. The next day I woke up and felt fine.
“There weren’t any symptoms, other than a distorted face. I genuinely didn’t have any symptoms then.
“To be honest I’ve never had symptoms the day after a game. When you’ve been knocked out you’re unable to remember much that has happened in the game. It’s a bit like you’re dreaming.”
Lancaster has no qualms about picking Anthony Watson on the right wing and believes he is ready for his first Test start.
Watson made his debut as a second-half replacement in the 24-21 loss to New Zealand and starts against the Springboks at Twickenham in place of Bath team-mate Semesa Rokoduguni, who has been ruled out by a thigh injury.
The 20-year-old Bath wing’s inclusion is head coach Lancaster’s only change to the England team beaten by the All Blacks and his place on the bench is taken by Harlequins’ Marland Yarde in the only other adjustment to the 23.
“Anthony has been pushing hard for a while,” said Lancaster. “He has got all the physical attributes you need. He’s tall, good in the air, has pace and good footwork. Now his experience will be tested.
“His chance has come because of the injury to Roko, and his form for Bath this season, but also because of the conversation I had with him before the New Zealand match.
“It would have been a big step for a 20-year-old to go into a match against the world champions from the start but what came across was how confident he was and how prepared he was. He is definitely ready.”
Tom Wood starts after becoming a doubt to face South Africa with an injury that England would only describe as “soreness”.
James Haskell had been retained in the squad as cover for Wood and he now misses out.
Lancaster’s decision to make only the one, injury-enforced, change to his starting XV is born out of a desire to see England redeem themselves after throwing away a winning position against New Zealand.
They led 14-11 at half-time but were picked apart in a one-sided second half as they crashed to a fourth successive defeat.