Rugby Union

Paul Grayson column: Big test at last for England, even bigger one for Lawrence

Now it gets serious for England and not before time.

Eight months is a long wait for a match to really test this team, but this one should do the job.

Ireland have picked a huge pack whilst Eddie Jones says he has selected his strongest possible team.

That suggests sparks will fly up front this afternoon but it is in the backfield where my interest lies.

Eddie could have played it safe in the absence of Manu Tuilagi and started Jonathan Joseph at outside-centre alongside Henry Slade.


Joseph has 52 caps, a wealth of midfield experience and is a player in form. Instead he has given the jersey to Ollie Lawrence.

He has gone with a 21-year-old who made his debut off the bench in Italy with the match already won and got his first start against Georgia in a game England were never going to lose.

This is an altogether different challenge and Lawrence will feel that intensely in the hours leading up to kick-off.

I remember my first big game for England. All your life you’ve chased something, worked hard for it, dreamt about it.

Suddenly it’s real and the emotions are completely different. The expectation you put on yourself knowing you’re about to represent not only your family, your club and your town but your country.

Anxiety and nerves mix with excitement and you’ve got to be able to deal with them; to perform when everything in your brain is saying ‘I can’t do it’.

Even now I can remember being in the team hotel before leaving for Twickenham, watching the start of Grandstand , hearing the presenter tee up our game. The churn in my stomach, the need to sit on a toilet!

Ollie is a confident lad, someone who has impressed since he was 16 and been talked about right through the England age groups as having the potential to go all the way.

He’s not Manu, of course he’s not, but he is physical and powerful and an important part of England’s attacking shape. I can’t wait to see how he goes.

It is hard to fully assess Ireland because Wales’ defence was so poor last week. What we can predict with confidence is that England will be a far tougher nut to crack and I expect them to win well.

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