England head coach Stuart Lancaster admitted to breathing a huge sigh of relief at being able to include Courtney Lawes in his starting XV for this Saturday’s clash with South Africa.
Lawes lasted just 15 minutes of last weekend’s 24-21 defeat to New Zealand, the Saints lock departing after receiving blows to the head.
The nature of his injury meant Lancaster waited with bated breath to see if Lawes would be fit for another run out at Rugby HQ, England’s second row having already caused many a headache with the likes of Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury ruled out before the first game.
Lawes’ presence around the pitch was certainly missed against the world champion All Blacks, England leading 11-5 before he was taken off and replaced by George Kruis.
And Lancaster insists Lawes being able to retain his place in the starting XV for this weekend’s Test against the Springboks was a welcome bit of news.
“It is huge to have Courtney back,” Lancaster said. “Obviously the second row is one of the areas where we have lost a bit of experience in losing Geoff and Joe Launchbury in particular.
“So Courtney coming back into the equation, not just for his line out presence, in fact our line out was pretty good [against New Zealand] we got 100 per cent, but his physicality around the park, his decision making in defence and his sheer presence in the team is very big for us.
“It was a big hole for George to fill last week. He did a great job but it is nice to have Courtney back.
“If you take his first tackle against Sonny Bill Williams at the weekend, it sets the tone.
“George did great when he came on, probably earlier than we hoped, but Courtney is fine and he is raring to go and frustrated not to play the full 80 last week so hopefully we can get more out of him this time.”
However Lancaster admitted Lawes is not guaranteed to feature in every game this autumn with the England head coach keen to tinker with just 11 Tests left before next year’s World Cup gets going.
Lancaster has made just one change from the New Zealand defeat – Anthony Watson coming in for the inured Semesa Rokoduguni – but he insists the players might not be so lucky moving forward.
“We have got 11 games and these games are about finding out who can and cannot deliver,” Lancaster added.
“And I just felt that I should give them a second opportunity as there was a lot of areas that did go well in the game.
“We have another two games to go in this series and in my mind there are obviously changes I can and probably will make.
“If you look at all the international coaches who have played in this series so far, I think everyone is using it as an opportunity to test their players.
“The All Blacks have made lots of changes for Scotland, Heyneke [Meyer, South Africa head coach] has made lots of changes for this week, Wales have made changes and I am sure during the course of our three games we will be the same.”
Samsung are the Official Consumer Electronics & Smartphone Partner of the England Rugby Team. For more information, offers and competitions visit www.facebook.com/SamsungSport or follow us on Twitter @SamsungSport