'I'd do anything to play with the silent assassin'
February 24, 2014
Joe Launchbury was sensational for England © PA Photos
We are beginning to see the birth of potentially a great period of rugby for English rugby. Anything is possible for this team but I hope when things do not quite go to plan, we don't get on their back. The exciting thing about this team is that while there is a World Cup next year, we have another in 2019 and I believe this current selection of players is a great base for English rugby and central to this squad is Joe Launchbury, the silent assassin.
Against Ireland Mike Brown got the Man-of-the-Match award and rightly so, but Launchbury was unbelievable. When Dave Attwood came on for Tom Wood and Launchbury, having grafted in the second-row for 70 minutes, was shifted to blindside he was still running around like a man possessed. The tap tackle on Dave Kearney in the 77th minute was really special.
When my career was running down at Wasps, Launchbury was 18 and on the fringes of the first-team. I remember he was a quiet kid, unassuming and very much like a young Simon Shaw. As much as I hate this overused phrase, he will become a world-class second-row, of that I have no doubt. Honest to God, I'd do anything to play in the same side as Launchbury as he is now. He's phenomenal and inspirational.
And then there's big Billy Vunipola at the back of the scrum. I really do feel he can take this team on to the next level. Although he went off injured, I take my hat off to Ben Morgan who came on for the injured Vunipola. He's had to play in a poor Gloucester side this year but every time he has been thrown on to the field he gives it his all.
But while individuals come in for praise, it was a team effort against Ireland.
Two years ago when England got that great win over the All Blacks it was all hands to the pump with a nothing to lose attitude but without meaning to take anything away from that win, the victory over Ireland was calculated and planned. It was a team who trusted each other and knew what they were doing.
Let's not take anything away from Ireland, my God they put England under pressure, but I don't know many teams who would have gone that long at the end of the game without giving away a penalty at the end. Throughout the game England absorbed pressure and then went on the attack. They turned pressure back into pressure and that's something we talked about a lot when Clive Woodward was in charge. It was heart warming to see England play in that way and they have clearly learnt from harsh lessons like their loss against France.
You can analyse games in the classroom and talk about structures and discipline but they have to prove points on the field and not behind the scenes and that's what England did but there are still areas where they need to improve.
David Wilson deserves a medal © Getty Images
Ireland got the nudge in the scrum and England will no doubt focus on that over the next two weeks ahead of the Welsh but David Wilson deserves a gold medal for his effort - to have played that little rugby and then to come through 70 minutes was truly tremendous.
And I have always said, as much as people talk about dominance in the scrum, for large parts of the season you may not have that front-foot. What happens then? You need other options.
If anything, you can criticise England in past years for putting too much emphasis on dominance in those areas as they looked lost when the opposition got in the ascendancy. Successful teams can function off scraps and while England had more than that, they did not have it all their own way and that is a great sign.
Now the attention switches to Wales. Any changes made to the team must be to improve it and not pure experimentation.
When we look ahead to the threat of the Welsh team that's coming to Twickenham the only alarm bells that are ringing for me would perhaps be Jonny May on the wing when faced with Alex Cuthbert and George North, if he's back on the flank. But at the same time, I want to see him rise to the challenge and it'd be exciting to see him up against that calibre of player.
Wales will offer a different challenge to Ireland but where the game in a fortnight's time will be won and lost will be in the collisions. Last year England were out-muscled and they must get the better of Wales on the gainline.
The England boys have a lot to prove after last year's loss in Cardiff, though don't expect them to talk about grudges as the press officers will no doubt get in their ears and ask them to talk about goodness and respect and all that. Make no mistake about it; it will be a war at Twickenham in two weeks time.
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