Dynamic duo get captains’ picks

Sometimes it takes a captain to point out the obvious.

“Can Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes become greats of the game and have reputations like Paul O’Connell? Very much so,” said England skipper Chris Robshaw.

“Look at the whole tight five, all young guys. They don’t fear teams, individuals or reputations. That is what you want. They respect guys for what they have done and achieved but will go out to get the best of anyone.”

That, more than anything else, summed up the mood within the England camp after this victory, one which can define a team and set down a marker for a generation.

Dylan Hartley is England’s most capped player with 53 Test appearances, but it was England who roared back from a seven-point deficit in a tight game, one where experience should count.

At the heart of that were Launchbury and Lawes — with an honourable mention for the outstanding Mike Brown at full-back — two second rows who could be first-choice for England and the Lions for the next decade.

Launchbury, whose tap tackle on Dave Kearney in the dying embers was his 15th of an astonishing match, is just 22. Lawes is only two years his senior.

O’Connell enjoyed a fine game but it must be tough to see a whipper-snapper some 12 years your junior going toe-to-toe with you and just about coming out on top.

England feel this was the game that set them up for a tilt at the 2015 World Cup, and there can be no doubt their second row pairing will be at the heart of it.

“They’re an excellent second row pairing, two brilliant athletes,” acknowledged O’Connell. “They’re two excellent defenders and Launchbury got a lot of turnovers on the ground for such a big man.

“Lawes is becoming an all-round player now — he calls lineouts, is a very good lineout defender and they are a very honest pairing. They work really hard and are certainly a pairing for the future for England.”

A pairing for the present, too. Lawes was dutifully respectful of O’Connell in the build-up to the game, but his pride at hearing the praise from his opposite number was clear.

“Coming from Paul that is massive,” beamed the Northampton Saint. “He is such a great person and leader. It goes to show teams that are that well drilled and put that much into it have equal respect. Him and Devin Toner make a great pairing too.”

It is hardly surprising that Lancaster had a similar view, particularly of Launchbury.

“He is such a young player but he is such a talent and he is growing in confidence. He is a quiet, unassuming young man but he’s a hell of a player,” he said.

The challenge for England now is to prove this wasn’t a one-off, but in many respects this was the perfect game for Lancaster’s men. They were forced to keep it tight in a pulsating early period and then react to Ireland’s storming start to the second half, before holding on for dear life late on.

Ireland’s greater experience was meant to be key but they ground it out. Now for the title — something Ireland remain favourites to claim thanks to their superior points difference.

“Is that as well as England have played under me? It is definitely right up there because of the quality of the Ireland team, the cohesion, we highly rate their coaching team and the confidence they had coming in to this game after two wins,” said Lancaster. “It was a huge step forward for us because of the quality of the opposition. I do think sub-consciously it will give the players that inner confidence. It never wavered after losing the New Zealand game or the France game but it is nice to have the direction we are going in reinforced by that performance.”

It also helps when you have two dynamos in the second row.


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