Courtney Lawes has pledged to keep producing his trademark big hits against Wales on Saturday, insisting the recent flurry of red cards will not hold England back as they seek to address the aggression problems highlighted by Eddie Jones.
Jones has put England’s sub-standard start to the Six Nations down to an issue with their “arousal level” in the absence of crowds but Lawes has claimed he does not need an audience to rise to the occasion, suggesting an empty Principality Stadium could level the playing field.
Wales remain in the hunt for the grand slam with two victories against Ireland and Scotland, but on both occasions Wayne Pivac’s side took advantage of red cards for Peter O’Mahony and Zander Fagerson respectively. The last time England faced Wales in the Six Nations, Manu Tuilagi was sent off and Jones’s side finished the match with 13 men, clinging on for a 33-30 victory. Lawes was also cited for a dangerous tackle on Alun Wyn Jones but escaped subsequent punishment.
In addition, there were five red cards in last weekend’s Premiership fixtures and after Jones questioned his players’ aggression, there would appear a fine line between upping the ante and overstepping the mark. Lawes, however, does not intend to curb his enthusiasm with his Northampton teammate Dan Biggar in his sights.
“I generally try to make good hits, plenty of them,” said Lawes. “When I’m at my best I’m always physical, that’s the edge I can bring to the team. If that’s what the coach wants then get me in, I’m ready to go. I caught [Biggar] the last time we played. He said he felt it so I was kind of chuffed about that. He is obviously a class player so if I can get some pressure on him I certainly will.
“We’ve spoken about just making sure that you wrap your arms. It’s something that we’re thinking about because ultimately we don’t want to be giving away penalties in general and certainly not yellows and reds. It’s just about making sure everyone has that little bit more awareness going into the game that we don’t want to do anything stupid.”
England have lost on seven of their last 10 trips to Cardiff and two years ago were unable to wrestle momentum back after Wales mounted a stirring second-half comeback. Without a full house of supporters, however, Lawes believes Wales could be at a disadvantage. “It does feel like it levels the playing field a little bit because you don’t have that same atmosphere and you [as a home team] can’t draw on that energy of the crowd,” he added. “My energy comes from being able to get in the right place at the right time and make the impacts that I like to make. It would probably be a bit harder if I had to get myself into a really adrenalin-filled state of mind.”
Meanwhile, France’s match against Scotland on Sunday has been given a cautious green light by Six Nations officials after there were no new positive tests in les bleus’ camp for the second day in a row. France will continue to be tested on a daily basis and another outbreak would almost certainly lead to the match being postponed. “We made our case quite clear to the Six Nations about why we wanted the game played this Sunday and we look forward to a great contest,” said the Scottish Rugby Union chief executive, Mark Dodson.
Dodson was similarly optimistic Murrayfield would be ready to welcome supporters as part of a potential “home” British & Irish Lions tour against South Africa if the Scottish government gives the green light. England’s route out of lockdown restrictions states that, subject to a review, large scale crowds could be allowed from 21 June – a move that has made a home tour a more attractive proposition for Lions officials. Among a number of complications however, Scotland’s roadmap does not specify a date. “As soon as the government is ready to allow crowds, we’re ready to go,” added Dodson. “We’ll take crowds as soon as it is safe to do so. If the Lions happens, we’re ready.”