England vs Scotland: Courtney Lawes set to fire up pack after Six Nations drubbing against Ireland

Calcutta Cup takes place at Twickenham on Saturday

England guard the detail of their in-house discussions as though they are state secrets, but the forwards coach, Graham Rowntree, made it abundantly clear on Tuesday that some very hard words have been spoken since the rude Six Nations awakening in Dublin last time out. “I’ve only just got over that performance myself,” said the old Leicester hard-head.

“We spent a long week pulling it apart and the players know it was not satisfactory. Not satisfactory at all.”

Rowntree was particularly offended by some of the soft penalties conceded by members of his pack. “The need for discipline was something we’d rammed home, as usual, yet we found ourselves six points down having had the ball for 27 seconds,” he remarked. “We can’t have that.”

There was a time when Courtney Lawes would have been the last man in Christendom to be challenging for a place in a team with discipline issues, but the fiery Northampton lock has been one of Rowntree’s go-to men for quite a while now and is expected to resume his red-rose career by returning to the engine room of the scrum in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup meeting with Scotland at Twickenham.

“Courtney has really matured as a person and you can’t hide from what he brings to our game in terms of physicality,” said the coach. “We have a lot of riches in the second-row department at the moment, as we have in the front row, but he’s a special player. The luxury we have with him is that he can do all the grunt stuff and has a high work rate, yet is also capable of producing the standout moments.”

Lawes has not played for England since the victory over the Wallabies in November: he broke down with an ankle injury during an East Midlands Premiership derby with Leicester before Christmas and did not recover as nearly as quickly as the England coaches initially hoped. In his absence, the Bath lock Dave Attwood and the Saracens newcomer George Kruis have performed the second-row duties at international level. The indications were that despite his exceptional progress, Kruis would be the man to make way.

 

With Geoff Parling staking a serious claim for involvement into the bargain – the Lions Test lock from Leicester has also been struggling for fitness, first with concussion and then with a strained knee ligament – the race for World Cup places is well and truly on. Parling is likely to be on the bench against Scotland and may make an early appearance on the field if the England line-out continues to misfire at important moments. An eye-catching performance will really put the cat among the selectorial pigeons, especially as the outstanding Joe Launchbury of Wasps is heading towards a playing return after neck surgery.

One possible personnel change in midfield ended up on the back burner, thanks to the ankle injury suffered by the defensive kingpin Brad Barritt during Saracens’ impressive victory at Wasps last weekend, but the Harlequins full-back Mike Brown is eyeing a return to the starting line-up following a month’s rest without the option. Brown is in full training after hitting the targets set for him under the current safety protocols surrounding the management of concussion cases.

Another Harlequin, the national captain Chris Robshaw, has no such fitness issues, but he did take some heavy flak in the public prints after an unusually difficult afternoon against the Irish. According to Rowntree, the skipper has taken the criticism with a pinch of salt. “The noise from outside is something all the players have learnt to deal with,” he said. “You can’t be England captain without dealing with it, and Chris has done that extremely well.”

For Robshaw himself, the defeat in Ireland was a painful episode nonetheless. “Did it jolt us? Yes, I think it did,” he admitted, reflecting on a rare instance of an England pack finishing second best in its areas of perceived strength. “Their forwards edged it pretty much everywhere, in all honesty, and it was a reminder that we still have big things to address. There’s a different kind of pressure  on us against Scotland, but  it will still be a case of us going out there and setting our standards.”

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