Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury are ‘best in the world’

Joe LaunchburyFormer England lock Ben Kay has hailed the Courtney Lawes/Joe Launchbury double act as the perfect second row partnership.

Thrust together after Geoff Parling injured his shoulder in November against New Zealand, Launchbury and Lawes have been colossuses in the Six Nations.

As the ‘Silent Assassin’ – softly-spoken Launchbury’s nickname in the England squad, the Wasps star has regularly stopped opponents in his tracks with his unerring appetite for hard work in the maul and the tackle – his 15th and last one against Ireland, a full-stretch tap tackle, saving a certain try and the match.

Lawes, meanwhile, has stepped up to the plate to successfully take over the lineout calling – England having won 91 per cent possession on their own throw going into yesterday’s finale against Italy, without losing any of his tenacity around the field.

“Are they the best second row partnership in world rugby at the moment? I think so, although there are some very good young South Africans coming through,” said Kay, a BT Sport pundit.

“I’ve been hugely impressed by the two of them; they operate really well in tandem.

“Obviously Lawes does a bit more of the physical stuff in terms of his hits and carrying and Launchbury perhaps does a bit more of the unseen stuff. I think I’m right in saying he’s England’s second top tackler, which is phenomenal for a second row.

“In this partnership you wouldn’t be able to pick out the ‘enforcer’, which isn’t a term I’d use anyway. Yes, Lawes is probably the more aggressive but he also does more of the flash stuff as well.

“As an international you should be able to do everything, and I think their biggest strength is that they seem to be able to do that.

“People were worrying how Lawes would manage the lineout in Parling’s absence, but that hasn’t been an issue. He’s been outstanding.”

Parling has been one of a number of Leicester players on the outside looking in.

His injury and those suffered by Dan Cole, Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi, plus Ben Youngs’ dip in form, means that England have started the last three games without a Tiger. Prior to this season, the last time that occurred was in 1975 against Scotland.

“Geoff is the one that’s probably been most unfortunate, because Launchbury and Lawes have formed such a strong partnership in his absence,” Kay said.

“Manu is back to full fitness and in the squad and I’m sure Stuart Lancaster will want to have a look at partnering him with Luther Burrell because the midfield is still one area that not everyone is convinced by.

“And when you get guys like Dan Cole and Tom Croft returning the picture won’t look so lean for Leicester in England terms.

“It’ll be interesting to see the balance of the back row when Croft is back. He can do things that no other player can do, but there are areas of his game that aren’t as strong as Tom Wood’s. If Billy Vunipola is at No.8 he provides that X-factor and explosiveness, and possibly you’ll need two workhorses like Wood and Robshaw alongside him.

“Alternatively, they could play Wood at No.8 and have Croft in at six, although I must say I thought Ben Morgan has a superb game against Wales.

“The good thing for Stuart Lancaster is that he’s faced with selection headaches right across the board.”

JON NEWCOMBE

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