Number 8 Ben Morgan is relishing the opportunity to don the England jersey again after his Six Nations campaign was curtailed by injury. Some people believe he was unlucky to miss out on Lions selection, and perhaps if he had stayed fully fit all season, he’d be on the plane heading to Australia – but Argentina awaits for Morgan and the rest of England’s young squad.
“I’m fully fit again, and played just over two full games at the end of the season. The ankle is back to full strength and I’m just about getting my lungs back again. It’s actually a bit of a mental refresh having missed part of the season – the lads that have been playing all year are winding down a bit and I’ve been gearing up and can’t wait to get back in the England setup.”
Morgan looks back on the domestic season with mixed feelings. “We’re definitely pleased to have Heineken Cup rugby back at Kingsholm after the disappointing way we tailed off last year, but when we look back, we could have, and probably should have, achieved more.”
Fifth place in the Aviva Premiership guarantees Gloucester’s place amongst the European elite next year, but a top four place was just out of reach.
“A lot of our problems this year have come from consistency. We went from attacking the likes of Saracens, Leicester and Northampton, but then in some games we switched off a little bit and lost our way. We have got the squad to break into that top four next season, and it’s just about being able to perform week in week out. The teams at the top perform every week, and that’s what we didn’t manage to do this year.”
Up first though is a daunting two test series against Argentina with an inexperienced squad.
“I’m really pleased to be back in the England setup, particularly with opportunities to play at Twickenham again and be involved in the tour to Argentina. It’s such an exciting squad with plenty of uncapped players. Stuart (Lancaster) has given a lot of opportunities to people that have been on the fringe for a while now and it’s a great opportunity. Every side needs strength in depth, and this tour is a great chance to prove our depth.”
All the talk seems to be about the youthful England, as if it’s a development tour, so I asked about the danger of being unprepared for the challenge ahead. “We won’t underestimate Argentina – you’ve only got to watch the games they’ve played in the Rugby Championship to see the level they can play at, and we absolutely will not underestimate them. We had a meeting saying we have to use the tour as a statement for the Autumn and we need to put a marker down. We know the tour is going to be a big challenge, but hopefully we can show what we can do.”
“Stuart has made it clear that this is a big opportunity – you’re putting on the England shirt and you want to put on the best display you can, and you have a chance to make that shirt your own.”
The absence of Chris Robshaw and Tom Croft means we’ll see a new-look back row, and perhaps Morgan reinstated as a specialist Number 8. “You have to have a balance and it depends on the personnel there. It’s about how the players complement each other, and also about the opposition you play. I love playing with the back row at Gloucester and we seem to play with each other well, and their combination of skills means that I can get my hands on the ball as much as possible.”
On form, Morgan could become a critical element of this England side over the coming years, and a Gloucester 8-10-12 spine of Morgan, Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees is relatively compelling. This tour is an opportunity indeed, and Morgan is fit and ready to take it on.
By James Hutchison
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