Courtney Lawes, the thoroughly modern lock from Northampton whose Test progress has been badly hampered by injury, is back in the England mix for the final international of the year, against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday. Lawes replaces Mouritz Botha of Saracens in the match-day squad and is likely to be given a run off the bench.
Ten other players, including a second boilerhouse specialist in the experienced Tom Palmer, joined Botha in being released back to clubs for weekend Premiership duty. The Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples, who scored two tries in the opening autumn game against Fiji, was again declared surplus to requirements, his way blocked by the repositioned Harlequins full-back Mike Brown. Thomas Waldrom of Leicester, the starting No 8 in the first two Tests, was also sent packing.
Lawes was a part of England's miserable World Cup campaign in New Zealand last year, failing to catch the eye as the then manager Martin Johnson had hoped. He is, however, an outstanding athlete with a supercharged tackling style – just the kind of forward who might make his presence felt against the best side on the planet.
There was plenty of fighting talk in the England camp yesterday as two of the squad's outside influences, the naturalised South African midfielder Brad Barritt and the former Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell, talked up the team's chances of inflicting a first defeat of the calendar year on the world champions. Barritt's assertion that "we don't put any player on a pedestal and we don't go in thinking there are gods on a rugby field" was reinforced by the assistant coach's view of the confidence in the squad.
"We have a champion's attitude that we can knock over champions along the way," Farrell said. "We did it once or twice when I was playing for Great Britain against Australia, and while the All Blacks are as good as it gets in union at the minute and are producing some outstanding stuff, we have it in us to take our game to them. The reality of last week's match against South Africa was that we were the best team, piling on the pressure and making inroads. Sometimes you win those tight games, sometimes you lose them. If we generate the same intensity and the same intent, we'll be in with a chance in any type of Test.
"Let's be honest, New Zealand are a fantastic side at the minute, there are not many weaknesses throughout. They do a lot of things right but they are also vulnerable in places, there is no doubt about that. You cannot be exceptional in every single department for the whole 80 minutes. It is up to us to make them have an off day and, hopefully, be on song ourselves."
Barritt, the most resilient defender in the England back division – and perhaps in the team as a whole – was every bit as keen to support colleagues who were heavily, and in many cases unfairly, criticised after the one-point defeat by the Springboks.
"There is something special about each person in this group," he said, sounding a little like an adviser on a self-assertiveness course. "In order to be here, you're a natural-born winner who will do anything to get in that winning position.
"This is a huge opportunity for us. The New Zealanders are performing to the optimum level but they're just humans with two legs and two arms."
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