Courtney Lawes left it too long to hit heights, says Simon Shaw

Courtney LawesCourtney Lawes’ burgeoning reputation as a world-class lock has been a while in coming – indeed England legend Simon Shaw thinks it has taken too long.

To tag a man who at the age of only 24 has already got 27 England caps as an underachiever might strike some as a little harsh.

But such is the breathtaking all-round package taking shape in Lawes, that Shaw finds it hard to understand why we have not seen this new-look lineout leader before now.

Shaw said: “For me, previously he sort of came in and out of games. He would make a massive tackle and then you wouldn’t hear his name for a while – then he would have a run and you wouldn’t hear his name for a while.

“Whether or not someone has spoken to him, he is starting to be a lot more proactive in his game and that is showing.”

Northampton man Lawes made his name with big hits and reckless physicality when he broke through, making his England debut in the 2009 autumn internationals.

At that stage Shaw was himself very much on the international scene, indeed Lawes’ first start for his country in the summer of 2010 saw him replace the Wasps legend in the England boiler room.

But while Shaw’s reputation has been founded on consistency and longevity, Lawes has struggled to maintain his meteoric rise.

Flitting in and out of games, as well as in and out of the England starting XV, meant the 6ft 7in lock appeared to be stagnating.

But Saints’ storming season so far, plus an injury to Geoff Parling, has opened the door for him and he has not looked back.

Shaw said: “I have always thought that he doesn’t get enough out of himself.

“He’s an athlete, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s a very good lineout operator – he should be involved in everything.”

Lawes’ England partnership with fellow upstart Joe Launchbury is developing into one of the cornerstones of Stuart Lancaster’s team.

With 46 years and even fewer caps between them there is hardened experience missing, but as a pair of athletes they look far from out of place in Lancaster’s side.

However, while the complementary duo begin to plan for a decade wearing the Red Rose, Shaw has a cautionary word for anyone looking too far down the line.

“He (Launchbury) is not the biggest of second rows but he is pretty fast and he has got the fitness and energy levels of an openside (flanker) so he uses his assets to his absolute maximum,” he said.

“They have got everything that you would require in a second row partnership. I hope they stick around for a while and blossom as a duo. That would be ideal.

“I had those dreams and aspirations as a youngster as well. Not that you ever want to take those dreams and aspirations away, but for an outsider to say they will stick around for ten years is pretty premature.

“You only have to look at the number of players who have retired in the last two years far too prematurely and realise that it’s getting harder and harder to have a long career – and it will only get harder.”

One man who may not be looking on this developing partnership fondly is British & Irish Lions second row Parling. The 30-year-old is something of an antithesis to Launchbury and Lawes – shorter on brute force but infinitely wiley at the lineout and in the loose.

He also has something the others do not – a call-up to this summer’s Lions squad, in which he played a huge role in series victory – but that may not be enough to topple the in-form pair. Shaw added: “Geoff is more astute and more of a lineout technician, whereas the other two are very much more athletes.

“It’s sort of a theme of Lancaster’s selection, that he wants fit, young men with high workrate. It’s a very industrious team, it seems to me, and that’s not an insult – it just seems that’s the way this team has been formed.

“But he is by no means a forgotten man.

“He is still a very good player. It’s very difficult to maintain a level of form and fitness for a long period of time.

“Just like these guys came in and took their chance he will inevitably have opportunities and he is a good enough player to take it and come back in.”

PADDY VON BEHR

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