Why Nick Easter Should Play for England this Autumn

Nick Easter

“Nick Easter should play for England.”

That is what Conor O’Shea said after watching his side beat Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, in a performance full of conviction and glorious intent that will have unnerved those wishing to wrestle the Premiership crown from Harlequins next May.
His statement of support was more than just an open letter to the attending Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree. Nick Easter had another exceptional game that was the latest in a line of strong performances from the back of a Quins pack that has impressed in all four league outings so far this season.

Easter played an important part in the build up to the game’s only try and epitomises what makes Harlequins so good at the moment. Hard and direct running lines flood the channels with a quick offloading game that simply eliminates defenders from the game. By keeping the ball off the floor and getting over the gain line several times in succession, even if just by half a metre, it nullifies the opposition’s back row and doesn’t give the defence time to settle.

This style of play is what England need to be playing in 2015 to even consider taking back the Webb Ellis Trophy. The modern forward needs to be more than a scrummager/jumper. A consummate back row player could be given a run out at inside centre and shouldn’t look out of place.

England are gradually moving away from the stereotypical style of scrummage-and-kick-to-victory but they are a young side and still developing. No one is expecting the 34-year-old Easter to still be around in 2015, barring some Simon Shaw-esque longevity, but sometimes you need to bring an old head in.

When Lancaster took over, everyone knew that he was selecting players for the next Rugby World Cup and Easter was one of the victims of the cut. Reports of saying “that’s £35,000 down the drain” after England were knocked out of the 2011 Rugby World Cup deepened the wound and increased the distance back to an England squad at the time fraught with a poor public image.

A relatively quiet period and a strict hand regarding Danny Care has rebuilt confidence in the national side and the England team has moved on. Defeat in South Africa was made more palatable by a strong work ethic and never-say-die attitude. But the current incumbents of the England No. 8 jersey haven’t quite met expectations.

Ben Morgan of Gloucester wasn’t caught in the headlights but he didn’t raise his game to meet the ferocious bombardment of the South African forwards that was several steps up from what he faced in the Six Nations earlier this year.

This allowed Thomas Waldrom to at last make his debut. The Leicester Tigers man is nicknamed ‘Tank’ and it is quite apt given how he plays. But he is typical of a Leicester side that were nullified by Harlequins at the weekend and shamed in comparison of their loose play. Time and again Leicester forwards clattered the ball into contact, found the floor and the fight in the ruck ensued. Meanwhile Easter, Robshaw and the Quins pack offloaded constantly and kept Leicester at arms length for the 80 minutes. Leicester weren’t bad by any stretch and are likely to be in the Final once again, but it was just that Harlequins were another level beyond them.

Jordan Crane was actually wearing the 8 shirt for Leicester that day, a talented Englishman in his own right, but he struggled in comparison to Easter. With a greying beard, the Quins man knows his strengths and weaknesses now. A key part of the 8,9 10 axis, he’s never going to romp down the field like Pierre Spies but he is incredibly effective at taking the ball with momentum into the defence and using his Fairy Liquid soft hands to ship the ball on.

Lancaster favourite Phil Dowson also has excellent handling skills and is an outstanding Premiership player and leader for Northampton. Yet he has still to prove himself to be a top class operator rather than a solid squad man to call on when it comes to the Red Rose. The fact it took him until 30 to make an England debut unfortunately says more bad then good.

Therefore, for the here and now, Easter is the man that should be pulling on the new Canterbury strip this autumn. Compared to his peers, he is first amongst equals at the moment and will offer a guiding hand in a side still raw when it comes to playing the best teams in the world.

Morgan seems to be the forerunner for 2015 and there is no harm in making him fight for the shirt against someone who has been there and done that. Waldrom too will be around the squad and despite being older is still new to the international scene.

If Easter does get the call from Lancaster he will be more than aware he is a short term fixture, there to galvanise not just Morgan and Waldrom, but to help those on beside him in the scrum, the Toms, Johnson and Wood, who are also making their baby steps into the international game.

Rugby is full of journeymen out for the quick buck before retiring. But you get the occasional player who galvanises the youngsters around him. Matt Burke at Newcastle Falcons and Rocky Elsom at Leinster are two that spring to mind. As long as Easter is interested for the glory and honour instead of the appearance fee and win bonus then England could do worse than given the Londoner one more go.

Let us know how you think things are going in the comments below or on Twitter either @TheRugbyBlog or to Jeff personally @BallinTouch

By Jeff Ball

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

52 thoughts on “Why Nick Easter Should Play for England this Autumn

  1. “The fact it took him [Dowson] until 30 to make an England debut unfortunately says more bad then good.”

    No, it says that Martin Johnson couldn’t see past Nick Easter at the time when Dowson was actually the best English back row in the premiership and Nick Easter was a solid but unspectacular clubman who hadn’t managed to get himself to a world class level (i.e. two or three seasons ago) – unfortunately Dowson has lost that edge now.

    1. Hi all

      Thanks for the comments. Love a good debate! I agree Dowson deserved a chance earlier than when he eventually got one, but he has never been more than a squad player at the highest levels. Shame, as a top bloke and a good example of a player who gives everything.

    1. I would actually consider taking Wilkinson into the squad if he was available. The options are 10 are slim given current form and the effect he had on Flood is there to see. Undoubtedly Farrell would gain something with spending time with him. In fact Farrell reminds me of Wilkinson when he was young.

      1. I’m glad someone agrees with me on this. Most people slate Farrell for being one-dimensional, and yet if you watch old games of Wilko making the tackles, kicking the goals and sticking the ball in the corners, it’s just like Farrell is now. Don’t remember anyone moaning about Wilko’s style of play then?

        1. True but it was a different team and a different era! Wilko worked well with the game Eng were playing then but it doesn’t work with the game they are hopefully looking to play going forward.

  2. I do not doubt that Easter is currently the form no.8 in the country. I just can not see this happening.

    And Dowson is a good Premiership player, that is it. He is a very good back row player but just doesn’t cut it at international level.

  3. I’m sorry to say but I couldn’t agree less with anything written in this article.
    The only people who should be playing 8 for England are Ben Morgan and Thomas Waldrom, Nick Easter is to old. He might be good for one 6Nations but then come the following 6Nations we are just going to be back where we were in the world cup (to many old players).

    1. Even if Easter was at least in the training squad, the increased competition and experience in camp would be beneficial. I doubt Lancaster will be too swayed by the media and, barring injury, his likely number 8’s, in order, would be: Morgan, Waldrom, Haskell, Dowson.

  4. I think it would be best for the team (England) and it’s progression that we continue moving forward with the international education of both Morgan and Waldrom. Whilst Easter is the form premiership no.8, his attitude off the pitch and around the dressing room is negative (much like Cipriani) and detract from the excellent work Stuart Lancaster and his team have done so far.

    1. Ability is one facet of a players selection and you’re right, attitude and affect on the overall team environment are just as important. If Easter was a player earmarked as one who caused trouble and had a negative influence on the team then of course he should be excluded. I remember Magnus Lund fell by the way side after the Marines told Woodward he was an energy sapper and although it may have been subtle, he didn’t add to the positive environment and despite being able, wouldn’t be selected.

    2. Do you usually hang out in the dressing room before a quins game? He can’t be that negative given they won the Prem and rolled over the tigers in their own back yard.

  5. I think Waldrom starting with morgan’s extra bit of pace and power as a sub is my current favourite. Players play how their clubs coach them to and I’m sure the England set up recognise how Harlequins have added what was missing from the premiership. Offloads have been what has made sh rugby a try ahead of us for a long time, there is no real secret to unlocking defences. If Morgan and Waldrom are told the skills they need to have to make the England team they will do everything to improve them.
    No use doing this in prem while Easter plays, has to be done against the best the world has to offer. International players sink or swim.

    1. That is correct when you say the clubs decide what skills the players have. Their isn’t enough time in the England camp to hugely change a players game. Too much time is spent on building familiarities with team mates and patterns.

  6. Entirely depends on what the management team and Lancaster in particular wish to do going forward. I don’t think anyone denies he is the form No. 8 at present (Lions anyone?) but the sights may be on 2015 rather than 2012. We’ll find out in a week or two.

    1. Lions is a more realistic aim for Easter than the next World Cup, obviously. But the fact there are the players from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to consider too means he is probably too far down that list.

  7. I tend to agree with most of the comments so far. Whilst I can see the benefit of Easter’s experience this Autumn before the RWC seedings are confirmed, Ben Morgan should be given time in the side and he could be world class by 2015.

    I didn’t actually rate Easter that highly when he was first choice – he always looked like he could slow quick ball down rather than do anything with it (if there ever was any!).

    1. I don’t think we’ve had a number 8 of the necessary quality to win the World Cup since, well, we won the Wolrd Cup, i.e. Dallaglio.

      While we’re on it, how good was the backrow of him, Back and Hill? Amazing.

  8. I tend to agree with people saying Morgan should be playing, and Waldrom on the bench.

    I find it hard to fit both of them into my match day 22 thought, with only really one back row sub possible, surely a player that offers more than just the ability to play 8 will be on the bench. That will mean that between Waldrom and Morgan, one plays, and one doesn’t make the 22.

    The sub back row player needs to offer the ability to play at least two, and preferably all three of the back row positions. This gives the likes of Wood, Haskell and Dowson all viable substitute options for that reason alone.

    What do people think about the bench? Should your ability to cover position be as important as how good the player is? Eg. dowson can cover all three but morgan is a better sub impact player

    1. Wood should probably be playing 7 as on form he is really classy. Robshaw could move to 6 and means that Croft, Haskell and Dowson are the best options for the bench over Waldrom as people have said, for their flexibility.

  9. The only reason for Minty to be playing this autumn is if Morgan, Waldrom and Joubert (now eligible I think) are all injured.
    Morgan is the most dynamic and powerful ball carrier we’ve had since a prime Dallaglio. He wasn’t fully fit is South Africa but seems to be getting back towards his best, so has to be number 1. ‘The Tank’ made a great impact off the bench in the second test and a creditable display in the 3rd. May not be quite as dynamic as Morgan but I think he runs better lines. I like him as a bench option, especially as we haven’t seen Morgan as an 80 minute athlete at international level yet.

    Minty may have bear strength and improved hands but I just don’t think he has the pace to be a top class international. Yes he may be a better link man, but I don’t think we should sacrifice our main ball carrier to bring him back into the team, especially as the rest of the pack aren’t spectacular carriers.

    If both were injured then I would rather look at someone we don’t know about at the highest level, but has been super consistent at club level, and that is Joubert.

      1. In my opinion he is the most complete (elusive and effective carries, good hands, good lineout option and strong tackler). I wouldn’t pick him ahead of Morgan/Waldrom as they both give us what England have really lacked in recent years (go-forward)

        1. That’s true. When Morgan gets going he can create line breaks, something that is getting increasingly rare in the international game. Of course England need to also get better at capitalising on them, like Wales do off Roberts.

    1. Agree with Matt. Jeff… you haven’t seen much of Joubert? and you’re writing an article about the form of number 8s in the premiership?

      1. Why should he mention joubert when he’s only recently qualified and isn’t on the England radar. In respect to that we should probably start talking about billy vunipola as well, he’s played age group for England and is a wrecking ball for wasps.

    2. Totally agree. I hate seeing our pack get stopped in their tracks time and again. Gone are the good old days of the English back row blasting the gain line.

  10. good point with the subs, assuming lawes is in our top 3 lock order we could have an emergency back rower there. he has the skillset to be a decent replacement. as long as its him doing the ripping this 6n!! has he played there before?

    1. Yeh Lawes p[lays at 6 pretty regularly for Saints as well, in fact I believe he played there last weekend. So yes that is true. I would say Haskell would be an excellent option from the bench, he offers both the ability to play all three back row positions and also would be a good impact player.

      Just saw the Joubert comment. I may be wrong but I believe the date that he becomes available is come time in November so I imagine the six nations will be the first time that he is considered. Someone please correct me if they know otherwise?

  11. Easters non selection had nothing to do with ability but was more about attitude. You can bet that it was Easter who was one of the older guard who mocked the younger players for being too keen when doing training. Easter when playing for England could be brilliant or anonymous and was too often the latter. He had 47 caps to cement his place. His time has passed and we need to move on.

    1. That’s a big assumption. Do you really think Easter would have lasted 3 years under O’Shea with an attitude like that? Easter’s old school, politically incorrect, and not to all tastes. But if he mocked hard work, it was almost certainly ironic.

      1. Have you seen Easter over the last few years? He always looks like he’s staggered out of a pie shop straight onto the pitch. I suspect his talent (and I’m not denying he has any) persuades his coaches to look past his short comings.

        This kind of conceipt is not an entirely based on assumption either. I remember the interview he gave after the 2007 wc win over Austrailia. Full of vitriol and spite against the media (and fans) who had slated England and not given them a chance of winning. After a mediocre win over USA and a complete thrashing at the hands of South Africa, England were deserving of such stick. Easter showed a complete lack of class or humility in not recognising this.

  12. I’m a big fan of haskell and used to be more so but he is behind almost every penalty england give away when he is on the pitch, i always think a sub back rower should have the ability to steady ship at the breakdown and help us get territory. Im hoping whoever is picked can bring these qualities or our ability to close out close games wont improve. suppose it goes back to picking the best in each position, and putting 2nd best on the bench. at 8 morgan is probably there with wood on the bench for back row. if he outplays robshaw as a replacement he will get thw start spot as lancaster hass shown with last 6n

  13. ahhhhh i just can’t agreeeeee man. Easter might be in form now. But Morgan needs all the time he can get in the shirt moving forward to 2015.

  14. Hi Nick

    Sorry, what I meant is I haven’t seen AS much of Joubert, and hadn’t been watching him with a view of playing for England. The other players have at least played in the Premiership for longer or played for England at top or Saxon levels and thus have been more visible. Plus the fact he is South African and it is only recently the whole England eligibility has sprung up means though I have seen him be excellent at the back of an at times awesome Sarries pack, he hasn’t been on my radar as much as others.

    Joubert is 32 and given Lancaster’s approach to over 30’s, seems unlikely to get the call. His selection would go against England’s longer term strategy. Shame as a few years earlier and no reason he ‘couldn’t have done a Botha’

      1. Joubert has been in the premiership longer than Waldrom, and been around way before Morgan. Fair enough if you only follow international rugby you won’t know much about him but you also won’t know much about England’s other options at eight.

        However I agree he probably won’t and shouldn’t get much of a chance with England.

      2. I think Easter is probably one of the most solid go to men in the premiership and he’s done that roll for England at times. There may be a slim chance for him to make the squad but I highly doubt that, especially as it seems Lancaster has set his elite and Saxons squads for the year.

  15. I think at the moment Morgan and Waldrom are our best options, and going forward it’s who we should stick to. However if you were looking for a different style of 8, there is a certain Saffer who I believe is now eligible to play??? Step up Ernst Joubert???
    And before you start saying but he’s South African, Waldrom is a Kiwi I believe.

  16. It seems I was a bit late with my Joubert comment, and didn’t realise he was that old. Bloody good player though, and offers something different. Very good at staying on his feet.

  17. Learn from the Quins management team? Yes
    Take Easter? No. His time has come and gone – I was never a fan; slow, didn’t break enough tackles and I saw plenty of handling errors from him (“soft hands”! Balls!)

  18. I’m the most die hard of Harlequins fans out there, and whole heatedly agree that Easter is the form Number 8 in the Aviva Premiership at the moment.

    However, what most comments have failed to take into account (and what this article alluded to slightly) was the quality of the 8, 9, 10 axis at Quins at the moment.

    Crane and Waldrom were both eclipsed by Easter last weekend, and it would take a very bias Tigers fan to argue otherwise.

    However, the experience between Evans, Care and Easter and a returning Crane, an unfamiliar face at 9 and an inconsistent Flood is quite a bit.

    Easter has been quality for Quins, and no one can take that away from him. But one of the true signs of a quality player is when they are playing on the back foot. Would Easter be doing so well if he was playing at Worcester or Sale right now? This was the case a few years ago.

    Easter was playing in a club pack which was nowhere near as good as this one, and everyone was slogging him, saying he was a half-hearted player and never took the step up for England.

    Now he has a solid base to push from the back of and poach for gaps around the breakdown.

    Any position is hard to play on the back foot. That’s where Easter spent most of his England career. Just because we have some kind of stability in the front five, it doesn’t mean we can call on the old guard.

  19. Easter is a good player but he has also had his chance. We need to ahow faith in the younger players, lancaster to his credit has so far.

    With wood, wilson, croft coming back, johnson, and robshaw a must there is plenty of competitipn for the backrow,meven if 8 is a problem. Let waldron and morgan battle for the spot, I still think 7 is our biggest problem, Robshaw has done a fine job but I would prefer an openside and blindside that are good on the floor.

    In the summer scotland played with 3 openside flanker in the backrow, showing the importance of the breakdown.

    All the all blacks backrow are good on the floor, this is priority number one.

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