Nick Easter: England’s quandary at the back of the scrum

Nick Easter

When Chris Ashton crossed for his fourth try on Saturday he became one of only 12 players to have scored four or more tries in an international match for England. The last person to have achieved this feat? Nick Easter.

The very same Nick Easter who continues to divide opinion amongst English rugby fans, even as the English pack displays the sort of skill, power and dynamism arguably not seen in an England team since those halcyon days prior to the 2003 World Cup. Yet despite this, Easter continues to be seen by some as a hindrance, a cumbersome stop-gap filling in until a better option arrives on the scene.

So where do the issues arise?

Since making his debut for England in the 2007 Six Nations against Italy, Easter has quietly established himself as a key member of the English side. Playing an important part in the England World Cup team that finished as runners up, Easter has gone on to firmly establish himself as the national team’s number 8 and was seen by many as the natural replacement as captain for Lewis Moody after injury struck. Martin Johnson instead turned to his old team mate Mike Tindall; however Easter’s presence as one of the team’s great leaders has never been in doubt.

With athleticism that belies his size, Easter has become a trusted jumper in both kick-off returns and the lineout, and his handling skills as well as his ability to offload – shown beautifully in Mike Tindall’s try against Italy – allows him to provide the link between forwards and backs that England’s current game craves. Frequently standing at first receiver, Easter allows Flood to receive the ball wider, providing him with a greater opportunity of providing width or, alternatively, an extra few seconds with which to kick.

He’s regularly on hand to fill in at scrum half or cover back for a kick over the top when England have been faced with trouble, and Easter seems to have an almost innate ability to sense danger; a quality that has been obvious throughout his career. His strong work at the breakdown has led to him topping the turnover count against both Wales and Italy, ably assisting his two young back row team mates on either flank.

Easter did not reach the professional level through the now customary academy route. Taking in the sights of Rosslyn Park and Orrell before first playing in the Premiership, many argue that Easter still retains an almost “amateurish” look about him. It could be said that compared to his contemporaries, he may not have the pace of Tom Guest, the power of Jordan Crane nor the physique of James Haskell – and perhaps England would ideally want a number 8 possessing these qualities. But where Easter is lacking, he more than makes up for these deficiencies in other areas, more pointedly, areas where the current crop of English 8s are lacking.

Messrs Crane, Narraway, Guest and perhaps even Haskell may go on to compete for the England number 8 jersey in future, and undoubtedly the dilemma as to who plays at the back of England’s scrum will continue to rage. But whilst England and Nick Easter continue to impress, the position rightly belongs to the current incumbent from Harlequins.

By Tom James

14 thoughts on “Nick Easter: England’s quandary at the back of the scrum

  1. Not got a problem with Easter playing at 8 but have got an issue with who covers him if he gets injured. Haskell filled in last time but didn’t really do a good job. Going into the World Cup we have genuine cover in most positions now, but No. 8 is definitely a position we could do with blooding another player before it all kicks off in the Autumn.

  2. Jimmy – He’s played him twice already! One win for England, one win for the French.

    I think he’s been copping a lot of unfair criticism really. He’s been part of a great back row unit so far this Six Nations and a lot of his work goes unnoticed.

    Also Jimmy, Harinordoquy better than Parisse? Not sure about that one.

  3. Agreed Tom, Parisse is def the No1.

    Easter does cop a lot of flak! He is not the best around but he’s sound and I don’t think he’s ever let us down so happy with status quo.

  4. Easter does cop a lot of flak (especially from me), but thats not to say i don’t think he’s a good player, just that he’s not the best player we have available. Personally, i think with all the back row options we have now (plus Easter’s age), we should be at least trying out new options at no.8 and blooding a replacement. Was quite intrigued by Quins playing Robshaw there last weekend – does anyone know how Robshaw got on?

    Tough call between Parrise and Harinordoquy – either player would be more than welcome in my team anyday

  5. jimmymc1 he played against the best number 8 in the world last weekend in Sergio. He did great I thought.

    I never used to rate Easter. Having watched him now a fair bit I think he is a great player. He is deceptively quick because of what appears to be a lumbering running style, his work rate is superb and he is involved in almost all our great attacking moves. Deserves his place at the moment. My only criticism of him (and this is true of Haskell) is that sometimes he thinks hes a back and goes for an up and under…

  6. Totally agree with Kemlo – very short of cover for Easter (a quality player: plays with his brains, not just his brawn) and, though Haskell is playing well as a flanker at the mo’, he was shocking at 8 last year. Not much of a fan of Narraway and injuries seem to have done for Dan Ward-Smith.

    Erm, as for the Harinordoquy being the best 8 in the world comment, think Read, Heaslip and Parisse might have something to say about that! Imanol is a wonderful talent and unplayable at times, but can go missing in the big, big games (desperately hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me next week…)

  7. Rory and others are right, there are some other No 8s who are superb.

    But is there a quicker more explosive no 8 off the scrum who can catch lineouts with one hand and does all the gritty stuff? (and dont mention Spies please! hes doesnt do the gritty stuff)

    Imanol is unbelievable athlete.

    I recall watching the HCup last year as a neutral and thought Harinord was inspirational player and leader getting to the final.

    Heaslip, Parisse etc were all playing for their teams (parisse injured??) and none had the influence that harinordqy had as a player and leader.

    Read hasnt achieved anything yet,ive not see him do anyting under pressure in any significant tournament so hes not in my consideration. hes got the worlds biggest rugby tourno coming up, so that may change!

    Easter is solid all rounder with experience and MJ wont change things before the WC. Id like narraway in there as cover, hes captaining Glos well and does the right bits.

  8. Great article and some excellent comments.

    I wasn’t convinced by Easter to start with and if we had a Harinordiquy or a Parisse then great. But Easter is excellent at what he does. He has his limitations but is honest about them and plays to his strengths. If he was to be found loitering in the outside channels like Harinordiquy then that would be a problem because it is not his game. He is a good decision-maker, unlike some of his rivals, always gets over the gainline and has very good hands (his interception pass against Italy apart, but that can happen to anyone – see JW on the 2001 Lions tour). And he’s a leader.

    For the moment he plays an important role. I would also much rather have a number 8 who plays a little tighter than someone who gets in the way in the backs. No problem with guys like Croft opr Harinordiquy because they have the ability to do it. Haskell? Not so much, the ball doesn’t tend to get past him. Playing the kind of game we are it is important to have someone with a bit of grunt to lay the platform. Easter definitely provides this.

  9. “Was quite intrigued by Quins playing Robshaw there last weekend – does anyone know how Robshaw got on?”

    I saw this and was also very intrigued! but again i didn’t see the game anyone? i’m a huge Robshaw fan would love to see him start to specialize at 8. i think wood, croft and Robshaw are our 3 best back rowers but you need a specialist 8 so it wouldn’t work yet. Also with guest and easter at the same club not gunna be a lot of chance surely…

  10. Robshaw is playing no.8 again this weekend. Unfortunately i’ve got to work, so if anyone see’s the game, could you let us know how he gets on. Personally think Robshaw is amazing and would love to see him in the EPS, but there’s too much competition for flanker so think his only outside chance is to convert to no.8.

  11. Don’t get me wrong. I love nick easter and after working with him at Quins, I love his ability to love the game and at the same time have the amateur spirit of rugby in him. However, he did let in Italy’s one try last week and rightly held his hand up afterwards. Despite this minor error in judgement he did have unbelievable passages of play and should definately carry the the number 8 shirt. No one could be more passionate and focused than Easter.

  12. Graham – I fail to understand how Easter was responsible for England conceding a try through an Italian rolling maul off a lineout?! I didn’t see him holding his hands up either..

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