WITH Nick Easter, what you see is what you get.
When the England No. 8 talks about the jealousy he felt seeing Ireland crowned Grand Slam champions last year, you can see it on his face. As he admits that England haven’t been good enough under Martin Johnson and that the players must take responsibility, you can tell he isn’t just towing the party line.
When he tells you that his side are ready to win this year’s Championship, you have to listen to him.
“This year’s tournament is important, and it could be defining for us,” says the Harlequins forward, who was mentioned in dispatches as a potential replacement if Steve Borthwick was stripped of the captaincy. “People seem to forget that we’ve come second in the last two years, and we’ve been far from satisfied. We’ve had the odd good performance, here and there, but in terms of consistently achieving the standards we require and demand – we haven’t done it. And I was so jealous of Ireland, last year. I’m in the game to win trophies and silverware. The last two years, the Welsh and the Irish have won it and it hurts.
“Everyone talks about World Cups, and they are important, but what’s wrong with winning the Six Nations, as well? We haven’t won the Six Nations since 2003, so it’s about time we put our name on the trophy,” he says.
That last statement makes clear the extent to which England have underachieved since the halcyon days of Clive Woodward and the 2003 World Cup. The retirement of key players, and the lack of foresight required to bring through the next generation, have hampered the Red Rose’s progress in the seven, long years since, but Easter believes a new force is slowly taking shape, despite England having won just six of Johnson’s 14 Tests in charge.
“The experiences we’ve had will do us good,” Easter says. “Guys like Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage started to do well in the autumn of 2008 and then came good in the Six Nations, and others, like Lewis Moody and Simon Shaw, perhaps took a backseat in England’s more successful times, but are now leading from the front. Now, it’s a matter of getting the balance right with the youth that’s coming through. The balance between freshness and experience is coming together.”
No conversation with a senior member of the England team would be complete without a discussion about Borthwick. The second row has been targeted from all quarters during his time as captain, with critics claiming he isn’t worth his place in the side and can’t inspire his players. Johnson last week, gave the Saracens man his backing in lukewarm fashion, and the feeling persists the 30-year-old has the job because there isn’t a credible alternative. Unsurprisingly, Easter disagrees, although he does admit he won’t be afraid to have his say when the chips are down.
“Borthers is a natural born leader, and he did a better job in 2009 than at any other time,” says the 31-year-old. “He had his hands tied behind his back in the autumn, as we had so many injuries, and he came through it. I see myself as a leader and I will air my views. You’ve got different captains on the field and everyone has to take responsibility. But there is too much pressure on the captaincy, you can’t give sole responsibility to one guy, you have to be playing well individually.”
Johnson has refused to confirm Borthwick as his captain for the duration of the Six Nations, but what is certain is that the lock will lead his side out at Twickenham on Saturday. Easter says that memories of Wales’s ungracious reaction to their 21-15 victory at the Millennium Stadium, last year, means that revenge will be a prime motivating factor for the hosts.
“We went down there last year and lost, and they certainly like to rub your noses in it,” he says. “We want to do the same to them. They’ve beaten us in each of the last three years, so we owe them one.”
Easter’s return is one of six changes to the team beaten by New Zealand in November. Mathew Tait makes his first England start at outside centre since the 2007 World Cup final and livewire Harlequin Danny Care is restored at scrum-half. Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey return to the team at full-back and inside centre respectively after missing England’s autumn series.
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