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Lawes picks 'extremely big' 118kg star as his ideal England No6 heir

By Josh Raisey
(Photo by Adam Pretty/World Rugby via Getty Images)

One of the toughest jobs Steve Borthwick has had after the World Cup has been deciding who will replace Courtney Lawes as England’s long-term blindside flanker.

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It is not the lack of options that proves problematic for the head coach, rather the abundance of options, with each bringing different styles and qualities to the table. Added to the fact that their job is to replace one of the greatest players to ever pull on an England jersey, Borthwick has an unenviable task on his hands making sure he has picked the ideal player.

But there is no one better to suggest who should replace Lawes at blindside flanker after his international retirement last year than the 105-cap England international himself. Fortunately for Borthwick, that is exactly what the Northampton Saints star did recently on The Rugby Pod, where he tipped Leicester Tigers star George Martin to be his long-term successor.

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The 22-year-old Martin has primarily been used as a lock by Borthwick and Eddie Jones across his nine England caps, but is equally adept at slotting into the No6 jersey- just as Lawes was for England. His extreme physicality, workrate and lineout expertise were the three qualities Lawes pinpointed in Martin’s game- not at all dissimilar to the Saints star.

Martin has missed the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations with a knee injury, but is back in the squad that will prepare to face Scotland in round three. His last outing in white came in the World Cup semi-final loss to South Africa, where he put in a monstrously physical performance in the second row. It was a display where Martin outlined his credentials to be a starter for England for many years to come, regardless of what position.

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Exeter Chiefs’ Ethan Roots has been granted the No6 jersey for the opening two rounds of the Championship, and has done a very good job in staking a claim to keep hold of it. But that competition will only increase now with Martin’s return, Lawes believes.

“We’ve got a lot to work out in the back row I think in our balance,” the five-cap British & Irish Lion said.

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“Because Unders [Sam Underhill] and Benny Earl are relatively similar players. But that six spot is going to be an important position, what kind of player they go with. Because we’ve got a lot of really well-rounded back row players in England.

“Like Tom Curry, who can do anything, Ben Curry, who can do anything, Ben Earl, who can do anything, and the same for Unders. We’ve also got Tom Pearson who’s not had a look in but he’s been absolutely class for us. Plus [Ethan] Roots is coming through, Chandler [Cunningham-South], so we’ve got an awful lot of back row. It’s now just about finding the right balance for it.

“It’s tough, because you definitely need nowadays a jumping six, or at least a jumping back row, otherwise you’re just leaving yourself so exposed at the lineout.

“So I think George Martin may play six eventually. I think, personally, he might be the next big six- a workhouse, bangs, physical, maybe not quite as athletic as the other back row, but he can do a really good workhouse and lineout job.

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“An extremely big physical bloke.”

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