Easter feasts upon rich pickings

England's new No 8 is a ball-carrier, offloader and try-scorer – and it looks like he will keep Dallaglio on the bench
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The Independent Online

When England were engaged in that epic final against Australia in Sydney what seems like four decades ago rather than four years, Nick Easter was not the only Englishman cursing Elton Flatley. Flatley's late penalty took the match into extra time, which was extremelyinconvenient for Easter.

He was playing for Orrell and was watching the final on television at home. "Half the team were round my house and we were glued to the box," said Easter. "The problem was our coach was screaming at us to get on the bus."

Orrell had a match at Otley and the players had to leave the action at the Telstra Stadium to journey down the M62. Easter did not see Jonny Wilkinson's winning drop goal but he heard it on the radio. The bus was rocking, save for one individual, the Orrell coach, Ross Reynolds, who happens to be Australian. Orrell won at Otley but lost out to Worcester in the fight for promotion.

The following year, Easter made it to the Premiership after signing for Harlequins. Although they were relegated in 2005 he was named their player of the year, an honour he picked up again the following season as Quins returned to the top. A powerhouse of a No 8, what has propelled Easter to gatecrash aclaustrophobic England back row for the World Cup is not only his natural habit of scoring tries but ball-carrying and offloading. He has made such an impression that he has shunted Martin Corry to No 6 and is threatening to reduce Lawrence Dallaglio's comeback to a series of cameos.

"Things happen very quickly in professional rugby," Easter said. He was talking about his rapid ascent rather than England's decline in the world rankings. When Dallaglio was an ever-present at the last World Cup he was something of a hero to Easter. "It looks as if the No 8 position is between Lawrence and myself," Easter, at 29 six years younger, said. "I don't think age is much of a concern. Lawrence was looking good when he helped Wasps win the Heineken Cup. We'll wait and see."

In the three warm-up games, Easter and England went from feast to famine. In the record 62-5 win over Wales he powered, drove, smashed and bulldozed his way over for four tries, which was four more than the entire side could manage in the two defeats by France. "It was good to get on the scoresheet and put down a marker. It was one of the most pressured games I'd played because positions were up for grabs.

"It was satisfying, but the important thing is that the team played well. We had a big pack and exploited our weight and I was in the right place at the right time."

Easter still was not certain of his place in the World Cup 30. He sat out the match against France at Twickenham, after which the squad was named.

"I was waiting for a text which didn't come. One of the players said they'dall received them afterthe game and I thought,'Oh God'. Finally I got amessage from John Wells saying 'Congratulations'. I had a massive sense of relief and elation."

Easter played for 50 minutes against the French in Marseilles last week before being replaced by Dallaglio. "I was enjoying the game and didn't want to come off. The atmosphere was terrific and it was the sort of challenge I thrive on. It was very close in the first half but frustrating we didn't take what few chances we had. Our defence was holding up but France turned it on in the second half. We don't yet have the understanding of a club team or England of 2003.

"Relying on a big pack alone won't be enough. We need a Plan B, because the game's moved on. Defences are so much better, you need imagination, nous and the ability to think on your feet. There are fewer holes on the pitch but it's still the same size. We haven't been finding those gaps."

How the mighty have fallen on hard times. Last Sunday England flew back economy class, Easter scrunching his 6ft 4in, 18st-plus frame into a position more uncomfortable than anything he would find in a scrum. Yesterday he was able to stretch his legs, watching his younger brother Mark – their father was a professional squash player, their great-grandfather a Springbok forward – play for Northampton against Quins. If Mark is interested, Nick could tell him a thing or two about how to survive relegation.

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