Frustrated England enforcer Courtney Lawes candidly admits his form is not yet where it needs to be going into a huge World Cup year.
Lawes, 29, has been a crucial cog in England’s second row for almost a decade, racking up 68 caps since making his debut against Australia in 2009.
However, a back injury threatened his participation in the recent November series before he recovered in time to face New Zealand, Japan and Australia, while he has been battling to help keep Northampton’s season afloat.
With England’s Six Nations squad due to be announced on Thursday, Lawes told The Rugby Paper: “It’s been a frustrating season in some ways and I’ve not been in the kind of form I’d like, but you get those ups and downs sometimes.
“I’ve just got to get through this now and hopefully be a big part of the World Cup because I feel I’m at my peak in terms of the experience I bring. I’m certainly a lot wiser than I used to be.
“It’s been a pretty disjointed season with that back injury, but I feel I’m starting to recapture some decent form. It will be good to keep getting games now because that’s how I’ll be at my best.”
Self-criticism notwithstanding, Lawes still managed to play an effective part in the autumn for an England side that took New Zealand to the wire – then recorded convincing victories over Japan and Australia to set up a Six Nations charge.
England begin their campaign against hot favourites Ireland in Dublin next month and Lawes, whose three previous visits to the Irish capital have gleaned two victories, in 2011 and 2013, and one defeat (2017), reckons they are in good shape.
He said: “I thought I went pretty well in the November series considering I was really struggling with my back. I did everything I could against New Zealand off the bench and came through better against Japan and Australia after starting.
“It was an encouraging period for the team and we came pretty close to getting a 100 per cent series, but we’ve still got a lot of growing to do.
“It’s always frustrating to lose a game by such a fine margin, as we did 16-15 against New Zealand, but it certainly gives you confidence that we’re going to be better next time we play them.
“First, we’ve got Ireland in the Six Nations, though, and you never take anything for granted. I’ve won there twice, but I’ve got another couple of games to get through for Saints before I can even think of that – and I’ve got to be picked!”
Lawes settled any doubts over his Northampton future late last year by signing a new contract until 2021.
However, despite his long affiliation with the club, father of four Lawes reveals the decision was not cut and dried in the face of potential opportunities elsewhere and says he could still move abroad later in his career: “You’ve got to keep your options open and even though this is my home town, it was a business decision at the end of the day. We were prepared to not to stay if we had to, but luckily it worked out in the end.
“We could make it work anywhere, I’m pretty sure of that, but I love the ground here, love the Saints and I like playing here. It’s very familiar and obviously I wanted to stay, so I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so in the end.
“Moving elsewhere or abroad is a possibility one day, but I’ve got another two years here now.”
As a senior Saint with over 200 games, Lawes sees nurturing the new generation being blooded by rugby director Chris Boyd as one of his key objectives.
He added: “We’ve got some great young players coming through, especially guys like Fraser Dingwall who’s having an impressive season.
“The academy seems a lot more switched on than it has in previous seasons.
“I had plenty of help as a 19-year-old breaking into the Saints team so you just want to be a good role model and show them what works and what doesn’t.”
Lawes added: “There have been some performances this season that we haven’t been proud of, but if you look at our recent wins over Worcester and Exeter, it’s about maintaining that intensity.”
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