Lawes could not have timed a performance of this magnitude any better. He was a machine against the Ospreys, smashing back anything that ran anywhere near him, a pillar of physicality amongst an imposing group of forwards. The thing that has so impressed about Lawes this season, however, is his maturity. Gone is the mindless player who was so partial to an enforced 10-minute breather, and in his place we have a man who picks his opportunities much better. His partnership with Christian Day at Northampton is beautifully balanced; one the hard-nosed enforcer, the other the technical line-out guru. It is one that could work equally as well for England, should Lancaster decide to pair him with Parling.
The Scarlets’ fly-half has admitted in interviews that he found last season very tough, not only physically but mentally as well. Whatever demons were troubling him, however, now seem to have completely deserted him as he has used the Heineken Cup to remind us, and more importantly Gatland et al, what a classy operator he is. Wales do not lack for options at fly-half, with Biggar, Hook and Patchell all in contention, but Priestland is probably the man in best form. Against Racing Metro he dictated matters well and, after missing a couple of early opportunities, regained his composure to keep the scoreboard ticking over from the tee. He will be closely watched by the selectors over the next few weeks, but it could well be his time in a Wales shirt again.
The fullback berth for England is causing a fair bit of debate at the moment. Ben Foden is seen as the favourite choice for many people, but over at Harlequins Mike Brown has been a shining light in what has been a thoroughly inauspicious start to the season for the Quins. He went well again at the weekend down in Clermont, giving an audacious one-handed offload for his side’s only try, which crucially secured them an unlikely bonus point in what was eventually a valiant losing cause at the imperious Stade Marcel Michelin. Brown’s left boot is something that works heavily in his favour, and Lancaster has spoken of his preference of having someone with that option in the backline to compliment his right-footed fly-half. With Foden being shipped off back to his club this weekend and Brown retained, it seems the Quins man is in pole position to start the Australia test.
This was written prior to the squad announcement this morning, so although Keatley wasn’t named in the initial Ireland squad he could well feature at some point in the future. His points were the difference last weekend as Munster recorded an all important win at home against Gloucester. Keatley’s boot was crucial as his side struggled to break down the solid and resilient defence of Gloucester. He kicked 16 points – four penalties and two conversions – to give Munster’s hope of qualification for the knock-out stages alive. Battling JJ Hanrahan for the starting No.10 shirt, Keatley has quickly risen to the challenge to take over from the departed Ronan O’Gara at Munster. He has helped the province to second in the RaboDirect table, kept them in the hunt for European progression while also staking a claim for an international start.
Another Irishman to miss out on the initial squad for the AIs, Copeland is someone they won’t be able to ignore for ever if he continues this kind of form. The bulldozing No.8 was inspirational at the weekend as he helped his Cardiff Blues side to victory over reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon. Copeland put in a man-of-the-match performance and used his outstanding ball-carrying ability to lead his team to a thrilling last minute victory and keep their hopes of Heineken Cup progression alive. The 26-year old no.8, who can also play lock, walked-out of his native Dublin as a teenager, turning his back on the Leinster Academy in pursuit of a different sort of rugby education. His path has led him to locations such as Rotherham, Plymouth and now Cardiff where he is setting both Europe and the Pro12 alight. Copeland admitted that his time in Ireland was misspent and unproductive but if he continues playing like this he could find himself back there soon, in a green shirt rather than a blue one.
By Jamie Hosie (@jhosie43) and Alex McLeman
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images