England’s horrifyingly lengthy injury list meant this would always be an autumn of opportunities as far as staking claims for the Six Nations and next year’s World Cup went. But taking those chances, especially in the face of the world’s toughest opponents, is another matter.
Enter Ben Morgan, the 25-year-old back-row forward from Gloucester, and what has already been called a career-defining match last Saturday against Australia, in which he scored two tries and did what so many of the autumnal pretenders did not do. That is to put his hand on the No 8 jersey and announce: “That’s mine.”
It is only two months until the Six Nations and, in the meantime, something unlikely will have to occur for Morgan not to start against Wales in Cardiff. And then it will be the World Cup.
Morgan’s is an overnight success that has been 23 caps in the making. He surprised many against the Wallabies, but not himself. “I was confident going into it,” he said. “I was playing well for Gloucester at the time, it was frustrating being on the bench for the first couple of games, but equally I was pleased to be involved. There’s only 23 spots on the match day, and a whole country to compete with. It’s an honour to wear the England shirt.”
Morgan started the two defeats, against New Zealand and South Africa, on the bench, but was impressive when called upon. The various combinations attempted in the crucial decision-making unit of No 8 and the half-back combination probably created more questions for coach Stuart Lancaster than provided answers, but it is not something Morgan will be thinking about.
“We train together in all different combinations every week. It is pretty natural whoever you’re playing with, everyone who’s in that squad, they’re brilliant players who are easy to play alongside. I just focus on my own job. If you know your role and get it right, it makes things easier.”
Should he start against Wales, it is likely to be in a very different looking side to the one in this series, as injured players, particularly in the midfield, return.
But Morgan added: “No one can come back and just walk into the team. There are guys there that have played some outstanding rugby. Stuart [Lancaster] said he will pick on form, and there is a lot of rugby between now and the Six Nations. There’ll be people putting their hands up.”
Those two defeats against New Zealand and South Africa were narrow indeed. Though Morgan maintains England are not far from turning those defeats into victories.
“A couple of moments in each game and we could have won them,” he said. “It’s a lesson learned. We weren’t quite playing as we wanted to. We’re not going to make that mistake going into a tournament. We’re really confident we can beat them when we face them again.
“In those first games we’d only been together for a week. They’ve been together for weeks and weeks. The more time spent with the team the more cohesion you have. It just gets easier. Some of those chances we didn’t take, we’d usually take them. And taking them is not a big step up at all. It’s just having that clinical edge that we were just lacking in those first two games.”
England were not alone in turning out some impressive performances against the southern hemisphere sides, and it will make for a fascinating Six Nations come next year.
“Wales, Ireland, they’ll have done the same as what we’ve done, they’ll have had half an eye on our performances. Ireland definitely had a good autumn, with some really good wins. Wales have just got the monkey off their back by beating South Africa for the first time in years. Everyone will be confident going in, and Scotland too, they’ve had some impressive performances. But when it comes to it, and all the analysis is done, they will all be worried about us.”
The importance of winning that match against Australia could hardly have been stated more heavily in the build-up to it, and being the man that won it instantly puts the weight of expectation on Morgan’s shoulders.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. It’s too far out from the World Cup for me to be thinking about that too much. Obviously it’s something you want to be involved in. When I am enjoying myself things seem to go better.
“You’ve just got to stick to the game plan. You can’t do anything else. You can’t go off on one-man missions, trying to solve things on your own. When you get an opportunity with the ball in hand, be the best you can be, and get the most out of things. If we get things right, get our performances right, then the results look after themselves.”
Ben Morgan is a Kooga Rugby Ambassador and always wears kit from the authentic brand. Find out more at kooga-rugby.comReuse content