Saints trio shine in win against Tonga
Northampton's two rising England stars grabbed their opportunities in style against Tonga on Saturday, but their stalwart club colleague did more than enough to share the limelight.
Saints duo George Furbank and Alex Mitchell rose to the occasion when they were called up for the match-day squad with two determined Twickenham displays that will have done their long-term international prospects little harm.
More familiar in the 15 shirt at Franklin’s Gardens, Furbank was something of a surprise selection at fly-half when England skipper Owen Farrell was forced out on Friday by a positive Covid test.
The Saracens star’s absence propelled Courtney Lawes into the limelight as he was given the captain’s armband on his 88th Test appearance for his country.
And Lawes said: “Obviously I’m really proud. It’s a great honour to captain England and especially with a group of lads like this.
"To lead us out was certainly something to remember.”
Former Bedford School boy Furbank, who has played a handful of games for Saints in the 10 shirt - usually in the absence of Wales ace Dan Biggar - is favoured by England boss Eddie Jones in that position.
And with Harlequins’ exciting fly-half Marcus Smith’s midweek training hampered by a leg injury, Furbank was given the starting role.
In an assured display, he had the crowd on their feet in the first half when he surged clear from the halfway line, jinking through several tackles before, without any support, he was halted by two Tongans and a high tackle.
Jones said: “I thought they (Furbank and Smith) did very well. It was a difficult game for those two guys because the bulk of the training at 10 has been done by Owen over the two weeks.
“George did some training and Marcus did some training, mainly in the first week, but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to train much this week, so I think they both acquitted themselves well.
“They did the simple things well, took their opportunities when they were there and we’re really pleased with their progress.
“George has trained at 10 all the way through, but he’s been training in the ‘opposition’ team mostly, so he hadn’t had the chance to run with Manu (Tuilagi) and Henry (Slade) as much as we would have liked, but I think he acquitted himself really well.
“He’s got a lot of common sense, he’s got a nice feel for the game and that ability to play 10 and 15 for us is just so invaluable.”
Lawes added: “George is a class player and he knows what he’s doing. He’s full of confidence and I think he did great.
“He’s a class 15 and I probably see him there rather than step up to to play 10, because he is just that quality of player, but I’m pretty sure he’ll play wherever he’s told to play and be happy in that spot, to be honest.”
Mitchell also got a late call-up to the squad, stepping in when Bristol’s No.9, Harry Randall, suffered a lower leg injury last Tuesday.
On Saturday, Mitchell replaced Ben Youngs late in the second half - and he was soon showing his customary speed and confidence.
He ran through to dot down under the posts in the 75th minute, and although it was ruled out for an earlier offside, he did grab a try with virtually the last action of the game, chasing his own kick through to score.
Lawes said: “Obviously Mitch getting his first cap cap was great. I’m proud of him and to get a try as well was fantastic.”
While his younger club colleagues were showing why they are such exciting prospects, Lawes gave another commanding performance, providing one of the highlights in what was a pretty one-sided 69-3 victory.
In the 37th minute, and with England comfortably 24-3 ahead, visiting full back Telusa Veainu, looked certain to grab a try for the Pacific Islanders. He intercepted a Henry Slade pass in his own half, sprinted clear, and with England full-back Freddie Steward unable to halt him, 32-year-old Lawes’ never-say-die attitude saw him charge in from the halfway line and with a trademark hit, stop him on the line, knocking the ball free in the process.
Jones added: ”You want your leaders to be at their absolute best and Courtney’s chase back on Veainu in the first half, when the intercept was taken, was an incredible chase; I don’t think he knew he could still run that fast.
“It was a good sign from a leader because he’s telling his team-mates if I’m prepared to do it then everyone else has got to do it.”
Lawes joked: “I’ve still got a bit of pace behind me when I get the chance to use it, so it’s nice to be able to prove I’ve still got some wheels!”
England 69 Tonga 3, at Twickenham
Saturday, November 5, 2021
England tries: George 2, May 2, Youngs 2, Radwan, Itoje, Smith, Blamire, Mitchell.