Lewis Moody: England must put aside thoughts of Wales and focus on Six Nations job against Italy
Moody Views: Courtney Lawes was not suited to No 6. The long-term solution lies in Tom Croft
Wednesday 06 March 2013
We know there will be changes for England's game against Italy on Sunday and we know Courtney Lawes will not be playing in the No 6 jersey. Unfortunately, fielding the big man there against France was an experiment that did not work out.
Long term, the No 6 solution lies with Tom Croft. Whether or not he makes it on to the pitch for any of this Six Nations campaign – and Leicester and England deserve credit for the way they have allowed him a gradual return – he is the ideal man to wear that number and it is great to see him back in the frame.
He is an athlete, incredibly quick, a great line-out asset, a great ball player, a worker. He doesn't always do the nitty-gritty rucking and mauling but he is one of those guys you simply have to have in the team. If you are in any doubt as to what he can do around the field replay that try he ran in against France last year. He has the ability to change the course of a game and there are not many No 6s you can say that about.
I feel for Lawes. I thought trying him on the flank was a bad idea from the start. At club level you can get by at six as a second-rower – Louis Deacon did it at Leicester – but when you get to the international stage it's a different kettle of fish. You have to be absolutely spot on – there is no margin for error. Courtney did as well as his abilities in the position allowed but he was ultimately responsible for the French try in being caught out by Wesley Fofana and missing that crucial first tackle.
To be fair to the coach, Stuart Lancaster, there was an acceptance that this was one experiment that wasn't working and off Lawes went early in the second half. The realisation was that in a tight game you needed a specialist back-rower in there. It is not Lawes' best position – he should be allowed to focus on becoming a world-class lock and if he is given that opportunity he has the ability to do that. There is no point trying to make him an average No 6.
In the build-up to Sunday's game at Twickenham don't expect to hear a single mention of the word "Wales". Everyone will be toeing the party line: it's all about Italy. Of course, there is a game to be won first; this Italy side have improved and, with some intelligent, experienced forwards like Martin Castrogiovanni, will need to be worn down. But, inside, every England player will be well aware this is a game they are going to win, which means they will take the field at the Millennium Stadium with the opportunity to take a Grand Slam, and that doesn't come along too often.
In the back of their minds – certainly among those guys rested for this weekend – they will already be reviewing Wales. For the guys who come in against Italy – Toby Flood, possibly Danny Care, possibly Billy Twelvetrees, maybe David Strettle – it is the opportunity to push a claim for next weekend. Lancaster likes to say the shirt is yours to lose, so if you play well against Italy then you are making a case to start against Wales.
Sometimes one injury can make all the difference – look at Ben Foden. He was playing extraordinarily well then got injured and along come Alex Goode and Mike Brown, and now he's not even in the squad. That's how cut-throat international rugby is.
I see England winning by 25 points. It is important for them to keep the momentum going, get a good score and show everyone that the progress continues. The first 25 minutes will be a challenge and will probably see a few penalties traded, but then England should start to break down the Italians with their runners and the intelligence with which they have been playing under Lancaster.
It will be much closer at Murrayfield. I am not expecting an epic contest but I see Wales having enough to win and set up the match in Cardiff next weekend. The Scots, off the back of those two home wins, will have massive confidence – they are always better at home. But Wales have too much firepower in the backs. If they get their kicking game right they will beat Scotland. It will be close. I take Wales by seven points.
Which leaves Ireland against France in a possible wooden-spoon decider, and that is not something you could ever have expected. This is almost an impossible one to call but I will go for France. If they don't win, for a team of such quality to end up with the wooden spoon would be unbelievable – and almost amusing for an Englishman.
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