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England primed for bruising encounter against Ireland's 'big pack' in London

Courtney Lawes was sporting a huge shiner at the English captain’s run today.
Feb 22nd 2020, 1:07 PM 9,811 11

“AH, JUST A boo-boo,” says Courtney Lawes with a shrug of the shoulders when he’s asked what happened to his right eye, which is swollen to the point of being shut. There are stitches on the outer edge of his eyebrow.

“Just a clash, or something, I’m not sure what,” he offers by way of explaining how it came about.

The 30-year-old, who starts at blindside flanker for England tomorrow against Ireland, says he took the blow at training on Thursday and managed to get through this morning’s captain’s run at Twickenham, but his peripheral vision must be affected.

courtney-lawes Courtney Lawes at Twickenham today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I’m hoping it goes down before tomorrow,” says Lawes matter-of-factly. 

It’s Lawes’ 31st birthday tomorrow but he has more important things on his mind. England have clearly been preparing for a huge physical battle with Ireland at Twickenham tomorrow in the Six Nations.

Lawes is at blindside in an England back row that includes two other flankers in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry – the latter of whom has been converted to number eight with Billy Vunipola missing through injury.

I think we’ve got a quite good balance,” says Lawes of the combination. “I’m quite different to those two, I offer different things, so it’s good to have balance in your back row.

“But obviously we can help Tom with our ball-carrying and then we just want to get around the park tomorrow because we can all hit and it’s great to have a back row that can all put in a big shot.

“And with my tackle technique, hopefully these boys can take that opportunity when I get people on the deck quite quickly, they can get on the ball and cause some trouble there.”

The breakdown should be ferocious and fun to watch, while the lineout battle will be intense too. Lawes will hope his right eye is open to get the best view of proceedings, with Ireland having brought in Devin Toner to replace Iain Henderson in their second row after the Ulster man’s wife gave birth during the week.

England assistant coach Steve Borthwick feels England will adapt comfortably to that Ireland change.

“A relatively late change but we had prepared plans for both,” says Borthwick. “Dev’s an excellent player, a very, very experienced player and he has a slightly different skill set to Henderson.

“Certainly, we’ve talked an awful lot about Dev’s lineout prowess and obviously we’ve got some pretty good lineout operators ourselves, we’ve got the man next to me [Lawes]. We’ve picked a team with lots of options and that’s one aspect of the game we feel we’ve prepared well for.

owen-farrell-speaks-to-his-players Owen Farrell speaks to his England team at Twickenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But the level of experience, you look at the quality in that Ireland team – you lose a player of the quality of Iain Henderson and you’re able to bring in Devin Toner, it shows the calibre of the competition here and the calibre of this game tomorrow.” 

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Of course, there will be familiar English faces in Ireland’s coaching staff at Twickenham, with head coach Andy Farrell and attack coach Mike Catt returning to the stadium where they were dealt so much pain during the 2015 World Cup with England.

Borthwick has been watching Ireland closely for signs of the Farrell and Catt imprint but doesn’t want to over-emphasise aspects of their wins against Scotland and Wales.

I think you have seen how that new coaching team is changing the team,” said Borthwick. “I think you see some of those shifts in the way that they play,

“As ever, with only two games, you are always watchful for what are the real trends, what are one-off games.

“They are a smart coaching team. We know tomorrow that whatever is thrown at us, we are going to recognise it and adapt to it early in the game – whatever game plan they bring.”

Lawes is expecting a real battle up front.

“They’ve got a really good pack, a big pack, so that’s a big area for us to front up in and show that we want it. We want to get out there and get at them, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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