Nick Easter: 'It's great to have our cavalry back again'

He is among the many big guns returning to boost England. The No 8 tells Hugh Godwin why it's time for them all to stand up and be counted in the field
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The Independent Online

Nick Easter speaks with the easy patter of the City boy he never quite became. Six months spent in what the England No 8 recalls as a "dog's body job" in the offices of an investment banker hardly qualified him as the next Gordon Gekko. But Easter is bold, uncomplicated and completely lacking in self-consciousness, and he wants his team to be the same when they face Wales at Twickenham on Saturday. "Sometimes people have been involved with England and wanted us to play a new style of rugby and get all the quick youngsters in," he says. "But you can't go away from your roots or your traditions because that's what the opposition fear the most.

"Traditionally we have a good set-piece and try and get a lot of front-foot ball to the backs," he adds. "From generation to generation you are brought up that way and you pass it on."

How Easter came to be passing it on as a mainstay of the England team for the past three years is a tale of a few trips round the block of comparatively so-so rugby leading to sustained excellence since he hooked up with Harlequins, at the age of 25, in 2004. Before the hiatus of a calf injury which removed Easter from England's awkward last autumn games, he had started 27 of the previous 34 Tests – more than anyone else including the captain, Steve Borthwick. When the critics were killing time between the autumn and now with unofficial auditions for Borthwick's captaincy role, Easter's name kept cropping up. He admits to being flattered and just a little taken aback.

"You don't suddenly turn up at the England hotel and think 'Right, I'm in a different role now, I'm the teacher and they're the students' or 'I'm the leader, they're following me'. Though it's nice if they [the younger players] think of you like that. The way I'd put it – if you want to call it leadership, it's up to you – is just to do what you say, and do what you set out to do. If you don't, you won't have the respect of your peers.

"I realised that first at Harlequins, when I started to realise how many young players they had. I'd always liked a bit of kidding about, but you have to curtail it a bit when you have responsibility for the group."

Kidding about certainly will not cut it with the Welsh on their way to Twickenham. Easter's belief in strong English forwards has a few embellishments (he refers to the "gold dust" of supplying front-foot ball to the likes of Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye and Delon Armitage). But it is up front which matters most, as ever. "There's a lot of respect for the Wales pack," Easter says, "and our scrum coach Graham Rowntree knows a lot about them. But I've also got respect and a lot of faith in our pack. You look at Simon Shaw, probably the best second row in the world, I think, certainly in the northern hemisphere. Tim Payne, with over 200 games for Wasps, has won countless domestic trophies. And the potential of people like Davey Wilson and Dylan Hartley and obviously Borthers as our captain.

"What I'm looking forward to most is playing alongside Lewis Moody again. The last game I played with him was the [2007] World Cup final; he's in the form of his life and hopefully I can get somewhere near the form of my life and complement him. Along with James [Haskell] we've got to be on our game because all three of Wales' back row went with the Lions last summer."

Easter is your plug 'n' play kind of back-rower; a poster boy for Stubble Weekly. Throw him a jersey and chuck him a ball – and see if you can ever get it back. It was once said of Dean Richards, Easter's galumphing predecessor for England – and latterly his coach at Harlequins until the "Bloodgate" affair – that if he got two fingers on the ball in a maul the opposition would never see it again. Easter has a similar stickability.

"The coaching staff and Johnno [Martin Johnson] have given us clear direction," he says, "but they're fully aware as well that it's not coaches that win the game on the field. It's players, we're out there for the 80 minutes making decisions in the heat of the battle, we can feel whether the opposition are up on us or they're not, and how to adapt to that. Coaches only get you so far."

Haskell was the No 8 during the autumn – Easter, nursing a torn calf muscle, settled for having "a few beers to relax" at the three matches – but the former's speed off the scrum was undone by a tendency to lose possession. Easter has gone the other way, to No 8 from blindside flanker where he began with Quins alongside Andre Vos and Tony Diprose. Before that he was used to more muck than brass with Orrell in Lancashire, winning the Third Division in 2002, and finishing fourth and second behind Worcester in the next two years.

Before that was the office job a drop-kick from St Paul's Cathedral, when Easter was 22. They shout loudly in the City, and Easter is unflustered by the stinging criticism from England's recent opposition, that Johnson's team are simple to defend against. "I know that sides [in the Six Nations] won't be saying that once they've played against us," he responds. "It's great to have the cavalry back, if you like; the guys who were missing in the autumn [the likes of Delon Armitage, Toby Flood, Riki Flutey and Simon Shaw]. Attack's just one side of it. Defence is an important weapon as well. Turnover ball is usually the best time to strike. The overall sense is everyone's itching to get out there."

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