Nick Easter has revealed he cited the cases of golden oldies Brad Thorn, Os du Randt and Neil Back when he was dropped by England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster after the 2011 World Cup, and three years into his Test exile the Harlequins No 8 still retains hope of an international recall at the age of 36.
Easter was man of the match in Saturday’s 32-12 win over Leicester at The Stoop, with a hand in all four Quins tries, and he inspired Lawrence Dallaglio, the country’s most capped player in the position, to describe him as the “best performing” England-qualified No 8 in the Premiership, worthy of a recall to face Wales in Cardiff on 6 February. Two of Dallaglio’s fellow 2003 World Cup winners, Will Greenwood and Iain Balshaw, seconded the motion on Twitter, Balshaw using Easter’s nickname in the hashtag #bringbackMinty.
Easter, who won 47 England caps from 2007 to 2011, said his last meaningful conversation with the national team’s hierarchy was with forwards coach Graham Rowntree in October 2012. But the matter has become more pressing after the incumbent No 8, Ben Morgan, broke his left leg playing for Gloucester against Saracens on Friday night, ruling him out of the Six Nations. Morgan will be out for at least six months after suffering a spiral fracture of the tibia and ligament damage to the ankle. He has had a plate and nine screws inserted.
Saracens’ Billy Vunipola started the autumn internationals as first choice No 8 but the 22-year-old is not regarded as an 80-minute player; he also confessed to a loss of confidence after two episodes of concussion, and was dropped in favour of Morgan during that autumn series.
England could, of course, pick last season’s Heineken Cup final-winning No 8 – the European player of the year, no less. But under Lancaster they have been just as reluctant to include Steffon Armitage of Toulon, on the basis of where he plays his club rugby, as they have been to call on Easter, whose spiky reputation was summed up by Quins’ director of rugby Conor O’Shea thus: “He may be old school in some ways – he challenges.”
Easter himself said: “When Stuart told me I would not be in his first Six Nations squad [in 2012], I said that in the last few World Cup finals you had Brad Thorn, Os du Randt and Neil Back, all well into their 30s and part of winning sides. He said he wanted to blood players and find out about them.
“Perhaps they thought I wouldn’t be around by the time of this year’s World Cup, but I like to prove people wrong. I have signed with Quins for another two years and Conor is no fool. I think I’m making miles better decisions than when I was last capped.”
Thorn, Du Randt and Back – all forwards – were aged 36, 35 and 34 when they won the World Cup with, respectively, New Zealand in 2011, South Africa in 2007 and England in 2003. Easter will turn 37 in August, but he is highly placed in this season’s Premiership statistics for carries and offloads, and it is impossible to put a figure on the instinctive positional sense and deft skills that thrill his supporters. He is also midway through a benefit year due to conclude with a gala dinner in London in November, a week after the World Cup final.
Replacing Morgan: England’s contenders at no 8
Billy Vunipola (Saracens) Strong ball-carrier and skilful offloader but doubts over durability
Thomas Waldrom (Exeter) Footballing No 8 has scored a league-leading nine tries this season)
James Haskell (Wasps) England’s most-capped player in current squad but seen more as an industrious flanker
Tom Wood (Northampton) Filled in at No 8 during 2013 Six Nations but much prefers the blindside position
Dave Ewers (Exeter), Sam Dickinson (Northampton) Both uncapped, they were the No 8s for last season’s England Saxons matches against Ireland A and Scotland A
Steffon Armitage (Toulon) Destructive carrier, and turnover expert, but off limits in Toulon unless England invoke “exceptional circumstances”
Nick Easter (Harlequins) impressive club stats for carries and offloads; also offers a line-out presenceReuse content