England hopeful Charlie Ewels admits he will return to training at Bath with an extra spring in his step now Test rival George Kruis has confirmed his move to Japan.
Ewels, so close to World Cup selection before Launchbury took the final second row place, told The Rugby Paper: “I didn’t punch the air when George announced it, but I probably should have. I might get a game now and I’ll definitely send a message to say, ‘thanks!’.
“Seriously, though, good on him. It’s something George (right) wanted to do and he’s a good guy who’s been hugely successful with England and Saracens. He’s always had a bit of an edge towards travelling and experiencing a different culture, but I’m sure he’ll be back and one guy going doesn’t mean anything because the level of competition in England is ridiculous – you saw that with Alex Moon before the Six Nations.
“Alex came into the squad from Northampton and, having played against him a couple of times, he’s a big, physical guy who reminds you that nothing in rugby, and particularly international rugby, is ever a given. You’ve got to fight and scrap for everything, keep pushing and competing because the moment you stop improving the next guy will go flying right past you.”
That said, Ewels knows that with 16 caps to his name since 2016, six of which have been starts, this is his time to play his way into the forefront of England’s thoughts.
He added: “I often get asked if I wish I’d been born in a different era where there weren’t so many top-quality English second rows, but I always say, ‘no way.’ I wouldn’t be half the player I am if I wasn’t being pushed or competing with the guys I’ve been up against.
“It’s a brilliant era for English second rows with guys like George, Joe, Courtney and Maro and I’ve no idea how many caps there are between them (for the record, 239, including Lions), but that drives me on and it’s been good to learn with them and pick their brains.
“I roomed with George before the World Cup and the great thing is while there’s huge competition between us, we all get on and there’s mutual respect between the five of us who’ve been involved with England for a number of years now. You know that two will be starting and there’ll probably be a third on the bench, so you have to work well together.
“That’s what being in a high-performance team is all about and while some people struggle to see how you can get on with a guy who’s after your place, you welcome the challenge. We’re hard on each other, sure, but the common goal is for the team to perform.”
When normality resumes, Ewels will return to the fray as a more experienced and worldly-wise individual.
As if being one of the youngest captains in the Premiership was not enough, he has had to deal with being catapulted into the deep end of acting as a shop steward, counsellor and arbitrator at a time of pay-cuts and doubts over the future of the game.
“It’s been a pretty unique season for your first one as captain but we’ve worked things through and I’ve learnt a lot of stuff about myself and us as a club and a group of players,” Ewels said.
“You do get thrown in the deep end a little bit, but I’m really proud of how everyone’s acted and there’s a brilliant leadership team beyond myself. Matt Garvey, our previous captain, is our RPA rep and he’s been heavily involved in that side of things.
“Hopefully, we’ll never have to go through something like this again, but Matt’s done a brilliant job and when we’re back playing again, I think rugby will be better for decisions we make now.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where we have a blank slate at all levels of the game, so if you want to make big changes, this is the time to do it.”
Ewels says he would welcome a firm separation of the club and international windows. As a player accustomed to making mentally draining trips between England training, Bath and back again, he explained: “It’s difficult because as a player you want to be able to fully commit to a team, whichever one that is.
“If you’re an England player during the Six Nations, for example, you just want to be able to mentally focus on playing your best rugby, pushing to get into the team in training and being with the squad for the whole week.
“But it’s difficult when you’re one of the in-between guys, which I have been, where you train with England on a Monday and Tuesday, travel back to your club and maybe have one or two sessions with them, play at the weekend and then go back to England.
“That’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the current system, but maybe this is an opportunity to iron out some of those pinch points. I think you’ll end up with a better product for club and country where guys can focus on becoming better players.”