INTERVIEW: Courtney Lawes on England revolution & Lions ambition

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Wuthering Heights: England lock Courtney Lawes passes on his knowledge.

For someone with the nickname ‘Big C’, a suitably huge summer awaits down south.

Colossal England lock Courtney Lawes – all 6ft 7in (2.01m) and 18st 8lb (118kg) of him – is widely expected to feature for the first time next Wednesday when head coach Warren Gatland names the British & Irish Lions squad for New Zealand.

A prominent role in rugby’s sternest challenge should beckon as reward for a dynamic Six Nations defence, in which he registered 70 tackles and 48 carries – significant improvements on previous bests of 38 and 32.

Not even the disappointment of seeing a record-equalling run of 18 Test wins end in defeat to Ireland on the final day could take the sheen off Lawes and his team-mates’ achievements.

Speaking at Lapita Hotel in Dubai as he joined compatriots Tom Wood – who he also plays with at Northampton Saints – and Kyle Sinckler in overseeing a training session for more than 50 Dubai Hurricanes youngsters, the 28-year-old reveals a phlegmatic attitude about the selection process.

“It would be amazing,” Lawes replies to Sport360° when quizzed about making the storied 10-match, three-Test series from June 3-July 8. “I’ve got no say in it anymore, all I can do is play for my club and hope for the best.

“I can’t get my hopes up. I just need to focus on doing my best for my team. “The fact of the matter is that it all hangs on one man’s opinion. We are all good players and all deserve to go on the Lions tour. “He [Gatland] is going to have his preferences and that’s the main thing. “You have just got to hope he favours you.”

A call-up to the Lions is one of the greatest honours which can be earned in sport. The genesis of the clash between the northern and southern hemisphere’s finest can be traced back to 1888, with four-year gaps between each contest adding to the prestige.

In Australia during 2013, the tourists snapped a three-series losing streak. One player absent was England firebrand and skipper Dylan Hartley (below), who was initially selected but then removed once an 11- week ban was incurred for abusing a referee in the Premiership finale.

Dylan Hartley

Dylan Hartley

This obnoxious incident was just one in a long line of indiscretions for a hooker who has been suspended for 60 weeks since 2011. Yet new England boss Eddie Jones named him skipper last year, citing his passion and aggressive approach.

With the pair leading the nation to the verge of history, his role against the All Blacks is being hotly debated. For club and international colleague Lawes, there is no question the 31-year-old merits the armband.

He says: “I think he [Hartley] would add something to any team. I think he does deserve to go, but that is not my decision. “He is a fantastic captain for England and he was for Saints. I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be a great captain for the Lions.”

Lawes appears to be in a battle against England’s Joe Launchbury, Scotland’s Richie Gray, Ireland’s Devin Toner and Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones for the hotly-contested starting spots in the second row.

Whomever gains the nod will come up against world-class New Zealand counterparts Brodie Retallick – 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year – and Sam Whitelock.

“Absolutely fine, no worries,” Lawes says when asked about potentially facing the pair. “But you know, I am very confident in my ability and if I was to go, the others around me – that is all there is to it.”

A tally of 58 England caps since making his debut as a 20-year-old is impressive, but a lengthy list of injuries has curbed this number.

From stress fractures to his shin, concussions, shoulder knocks, groin problems and torn medial ligaments, Lawes has damaged it all it in a physical sport played at an increasingly higher speed and by athletes of ever-greater size.

This made his zestful impact at the recent Six Nations all the more remarkable. Lawes reveals a combination of hard work on the training pitch, focusing on ball carrying and running lines, plus time spent away from the treatment table got him into prime condition.

He says: “I have not been fit for this long in a very long while. “I have always been a good, mobile forward. I have good footwork and things like that.”

Lawes was previously renowned for making monstrous hits, rather than causing chaos with ball in hand. The arrival of Jones as England coach in the aftermath of a disastrous 2015 Rugby World Cup has helped take his performances to new heights.

The Australian’s success on the pitch, single-minded focus and charismatic antics – such as bringing his dog, Annie, to training – have also gripped English rugby.

“I’m ‘Big C’, that’s all there is to it,” says Lawes of his relationship with the national supremo. “I think it is pretty self-explanatory. “Every so often, you get a kick up the ass. But he also wants to be your friend and be around the team, being among the banter and everything like that – he loves it.

“I have never seen his dog involved in any of the training, I think that was Eddie messing around with the media more than anything. “He is always hands on, always in the middle of the pitch, in danger of being run over. “I think he’s been knocked over a few times, but he loves it and just gets back up.”

Talk of the Lions tour is both hard to dodge and a fitting end point to an interview. Lawes is unequivocal when asked about it.

He says: “It is probably the pinnacle of northern hemisphere rugby, but I can’t think about that. I’ve got to get on with it for the rest of the season and hope I’m given a shot.”

HOW THE ‘BIG C’ SEES IT

England Rugby Team players celebrate with the Six Nations trophy.

England Rugby Team players celebrate with the Six Nations trophy.

Six Nations highs and lows

“I know we lost at the end, but we still beat more teams than any others. Ireland are a good team, who were at home and a lot of decisions went their way.”

Partnership with Launchbury

“Our relationship is really good. My Mrs and his wife-to-be are very close, our kids are very close. They are always meeting up and doing whatever they do while we are at training.”

Earliest rugby memories

“I always loved playing rugby. I only started late, when I was 13, but I just enjoyed playing it and didn’t think much of it in terms of a career.”

The ‘Daycation Brunch’ at Lapita Hotel provides the ultimate day out for the family. Prices start from Dh195 with soft beverages, Dh295 for house beverages and Dh95 for children under 12. Contact 04 810 9999.

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England stars reveal softer side to Eddie Jones

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Courtney Lawes was one of three England players in Dubai.

Coach Eddie Jones’ trademark Australian banter and penchant for nicknames has been a key catalyst behind England’s incredible renaissance experienced under him, according to flanker Tom Wood.

All but one of the Red Rose’s record-equalling run of 18 consecutive Test victories was notched up since the 57-year-old took charge in November 2015 of a nation shattered by their awful Rugby World Cup on home soil.

The ex-Japan and Australia supremo has been hailed for his unique approach to the role, allying supreme attention to detail with extrovert moments such as bringing his dog, Annie, go to training and playing an active role in last-minute contact drills on the pitch during last June’s series whitewash of his native country.

Speaking at Lapita Hotel in Dubai as he joined international colleagues Courtney Lawes – who he also plays with at Northampton Saints – and Kyle Sinckler in overseeing a training session for gleeful Dubai Hurricanes youngsters, 50-cap forward Woods – or ‘Rambo’ as he’s known by his current boss – praised the winning atmosphere fostered within the camp.

“Eddie is one of the boys around the team,” said the 30-year-old. “He is always laughing and joking. He has got banter, he’s got nicknames for everybody.

“He has an arm around the lads and out there on the pitch, he is a pretty good taskmaster then. He picks up on errors straight away. He looks at the very basic fundamentals, and polices them really hard.

“I’ve had a few nicknames. The main one I’ve had is ‘Rambo’. He calls us Saints lads, ‘The Factory’. He thinks there is nothing in Northampton other than a shoe factory.”

More than 50 Canes’ kids were put through their paces by the trio, who were in Dubai following the 13-9 loss to Ireland on March 18 which denied them a second-successive Grand Slam in the Six Nations and history. Expected British & Irish Lion Lawes was happy to help.

“Development of rugby in countries like this is very important, and also in England,” the 28-year-old lock said. “It is really good to train with the kids and I like to get more involved.”

When Lawes is away this summer – if selected – with the Lions, Jones will take his available squad to Argentina. This is an opportunity Harlequins’ tighthead Sinckler, 24, does not want to miss out on through complacency, after just breaking in.

He said: “What I’ve learned as I’ve got older is not to look too far ahead. I’m not guaranteed a place on the Argentina tour and the moment you think that, you start losing focus on your game.”

The ‘Daycation Brunch’ at Lapita Hotel provides the ultimate day out for the family. Prices start from Dh195 with soft beverages. Dh295 for house beverages and Dh95 for children under 12. Contact 04 810 9999 for more information.

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Who made it into our combined Racing - Stade XV?

Sport360 staff 15/03/2017

Racing 92 and Stade Francais, winners of the last two Top 14 titles, announced Monday a shock merger to create a 'super club' that leaves many star players in limbo.

Racing and Stade are two of the biggest rivals in the French championship and the merger from next season came as a major surprise for European rugby.

Racing won the championship last year, but are now sitting in seventh and ace marksman Dan Carter was even jeered off the pitch after a defeat to leaders La Rochelle last weekend.

Should the merger go ahead, here’s what we think a combined XI would look like. What do you make of our team selection? Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

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