England captain Courtney Lawes: There are times to front up and play away from Boks
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Cape Town – Courtney Lawes is undoubtedly one of the England forwards that the Springboks truly respect.
Considering his size – 2.01m and 115kg – for a blindside flank, it’s hard to miss the ‘gentle giant’.
You see, Lawes does his talking with his actions on the pitch rather than being a big mouth off it, and having been named as captain of his country for Saturday’s showdown with the Springboks, he will surely look to ‘lay down the law’ once more at Twickenham.
The 32-year-old, who also played lock earlier in his career, was one of the stand-outs for the British and Irish Lions in the 2-1 series defeat to the Boks a few months ago.
But while that result will still be hurting – not to mention the 2019 Rugby World Cup final loss to the South Africans – there is no revenge talk coming from Lawes.
“I wouldn’t say, from a personal standpoint, that it’s a revenge mission. Obviously it was a big loss for us, but at the same time at the World Cup, we did ourselves proud and have certainly come a long way since then,” the utility forward said this week after being installed as the skipper by Eddie Jones due to the unavailability of the injured Owen Farrell.
“We are not focusing too much on South Africa – it’s more about us and what we can bring. We have to be very aware of their strengths… one of which is their forward pack, and their set-piece.
“But really, we are focusing on us and what we can do to show them some of our stuff as well. I haven’t actually watched it (the 2019 final) back. At the time, the set-piece was the big one – the scrum especially – and that leads into lineouts and mauls and stuff like that.
“The set-piece is a huge area for them – it’s one of their massive strengths – and it’s something that we will have to make sure that we front up against.”
As is his trademark, he spoke in understated tones about captaining England again – he laughed when asked about whether he now gets a better room: “I’ve got a pretty good hotel room, actually – with Manu (Tuilagi). But I had that with Faz (Farrell) as skip. So, I guess no, but I’m happy where I am.
“I can’t ever say it was an ambition (to lead England), because I’m just quite happy contributing how I contribute, if you know what I mean… Whether it’s as a skipper, or helping the skipper, or as a leader within the group helping the team getting to where they need to go.
“I’m just happy to contribute in whatever way I can, and having the experience I’ve got and being the kind of person I am means that I’ve been able to step up and take the leadership/captain role, and be up to do it.”
The South Africans have their own big bruisers in the shape of Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, who will try to impose themselves on the England pack, but the world champions would do well to keep a lid on Lawes’ powerful charges with ball-in-hand.
The hosts know that the Boks will aim for physical dominance, but Lawes – who has 87 England Test caps and five for the Lions – feels that there are ways to combat that kind of onslaught.
“We had a meeting at the start of the week, just to put the game plan together, really. I can’t say too much about it, but essentially, South Africa know exactly what their strengths are, and if you want to stand a good chance of beating them, then there’s times when you are going to need to front up and challenge them,” he said.
“And there’s times when you want to play away from them. So, if you go into the game just wanting to play their game against them, you’ll probably not going to come off on top – and not many teams do. So, you have to go there with… not necessarily anything different, but you have to make sure that you stick to your strengths, and don’t play into theirs.”