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Who is Courtney Lawes?

Courtney Lawes
Lawes has made just 20 first-team starts for Northampton

By Nabil Hassan

England manager Martin Johnson might just see a little bit of himself in precocious Northampton lock Courtney Lawes.

Injuries have paved the way for the 20-year-old Lawes to be promoted to England's elite player squad after just 32 first-team games for the Saints.

He is a major ball carrier, his defensive work is relentless and the hits he puts in are ferocious

Jon Sleightholme
Former Saints and England winger

It's not a million miles away from Johnson's own promotion for his England debut as a late injury replacement for Wade Dooley back in 1993 when he was a fresh-faced 22-year-old.

Add to the mix an intensely physical approach that belies relative inexperience and a total disregard for the reputation of whoever is in an opposition shirt and you can begin to see more similarities between the two.

Johnson was a product of the amateur age who adapted seamlessly to professional rugby and was peerless in the tight, excelling in the scrum and rolling maul - not to mention the line-out.

Lawes, meanwhile, is the epitome of the athletic modern-day second-rower with a dynamic style that allows him to smash opponents in fearsome fashion.

606: DEBATE
RH

No-one is saying that Lawes is yet in the class of Johnson, an iconic figure of world rugby and one of the all-time great locks, but he is showing the potential to become a very special player.

Northampton stalwart Lennie Newman has seen players come and go during his 21 years at the club, but none quite like the 6ft 7in and 18 stone Lawes.

"There's no doubt that Courtney is the future of English rugby," said Newman, who played 120 times for Saints before spending nine years as team manager.

Newman's first encounter with Lawes was when he saw the then 17-year-old line up in the same side as his son Joe, at Northampton Old Scouts RFC.

"I remember thinking 'blimey, this guy is big' - but he was good as well," Newman told BBC Sport.

"You could tell there was something special about him, and his physical size gave him that edge."

Brought up just minutes from Franklin's Gardens, Lawes is the local boy done good but was a late developer in rugby terms having only taken up the game at the age of 16.

After coming through Northampton's academy, which also produced World Cup-winning pair Steve Thompson and Ben Cohen, he made his senior debut in 2007 with Northampton still in National League One.

Courtney Lawes in action against Perpignan
Lawes is a superb ball carrier for the Saints

He has still made just 20 starts for Northampton's first team, including two in the Heineken Cup, but the buzz around him and his rapid elevation to England's senior ranks show just how highly rated he is.

"We've got to build the platform for the next World Cup around young players such as Courtney," added Newman.

"He is an exceptional talent and he's ready now. There is no reason why, barring injuries, he couldn't have a decade at the top."

Newman's views are backed up by former Saints and England winger Jon Sleightholme, who has spent much of this season summarising for BBC Radio Northampton.

"His natural athleticism is his best attribute," said Sleightholme.

"He is a major ball carrier, his defensive work is relentless and the hits he puts in are ferocious.

"Over the past two years he has really filled out and put some muscle bulk on. We have seen him put in some huge tackles not only this season but last year as well."

Those huge tackles have already become something of a speciality, beloved of TV directors lining up their next slow-motion replay.

But Lawes is not just a "crash, bang, wallop" destroyer, as his magnificent display against Munster's Ireland and Lions second-row pairing of Paul O'Connell and Donnacha O'Callaghan in the Heineken Cup demonstrated.

It couldn't be better for him, having Martin Johnson as a mentor and coach

Lennie Newman

Northampton held off the challenge of the tournament specialists with a thrilling 31-27 win, and Lawes was at the absolute heart of their performance.

"In the game against Munster he was playing against two world-class second rows and he was outstanding," said Sleightholme.

"That obviously gave the England coaching team the confidence that Courtney could step up and play at that level."

Sleightholme and Newman are in no doubt that Lawes - a "level-headed guy" from a "strong family" - will cope with everything thrown at him over the next few weeks with England.

During his time at Saints he has had strong mentors in academy manager Rob Hunter and Northampton forwards coach Dorian West, while he has also had experience of international rugby playing for England's Under-18 and Under-20 sides.

But it will be his latest mentor that will shape the future career of Lawes.

"It couldn't be better for him, having Martin Johnson as a mentor and coach," said Newman.

"Remember Jonno was never a shouter, he just led by example and I'm pretty sure Courtney will do the same."

Sleightholme added: "I was lucky when I won my first cap as I had the likes of Dean Richards, Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott in the squad helping me through.

"I'm sure Martin will take him to one side and tell him that he deserves his place in the squad, which is what Will said to me when I was first called up.

"Martin will be one of Courtney's heroes and when you get guys like that telling you that you deserve your place then it fills you with a lot of confidence."

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see also
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Vickery joins England casualties
20 Oct 09 |  English
Sheridan faces Six Nations race
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Cipriani & Rees blow for England
09 Oct 09 |  English
England hit by Turner-Hall injury
24 Sep 09 |  English
Lawes surprised at Saxons call-up
08 Jul 09 |  Northampton
Armitage to miss November Tests
15 Sep 09 |  English
Flutey faces three-month lay-off
14 Sep 09 |  English
Wilkinson returns to England fold
07 Jul 09 |  English
Saints announce Newman departure
09 Jul 09 |  Northampton
Thompson set for surprise return
23 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union
Sleightholme calls it a day
18 Dec 03 |  English


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