Ben Kay Column
Lawes and Palmer are England's dynamic duo
November 17, 2010
Tom Palmer is flourishing in the England second-row © Getty Images
England's victory over Australia at Twickenham on Saturday has got the country's rugby fans talking again and there's a major feel-good factor building around an exciting squad of young players.
Everyone is saying they can't remember an England performance as good as that since 2003 but to be honest I can't remember one before that. They were so dominant against a good side and crucially took control in areas that they weren't expected to. Ten minutes into the game it was apparent that only one team was going to win it.
Prior to kick-off there was massive focus on the tight exchanges given the Wallabies' struggle against Wales but the manner in which the game was refereed meant that it did not throw up many scrums, something that England were happy with.
The tempo that they played at and the way they harried the Australians was allied to calmness when in possession of the ball. It was such a dynamic performance and the great thing in the last three games has been the way in which the young players have led from the front.
Ben Youngs was fantastic, Toby Flood was superb and the two locks, Tom Palmer and Courtney Lawes, were absolutely outstanding. It was great to see and the future looks bright.
The dynamic between Palmer and Lawes is excellent. Their work-rate around the field was supreme, they both made yards going forward with ball in hand and both timed their passing game well when there was an opportunity to offload.
Chris Ashton's length-of-the-field try will be remembered for years to come and it was sparked by a Palmer turnover and Lawes' sleight of hand with an expertly-timed offload. The only concern is that the lineout did not function that well, something that isn't just the concern of Palmer and Lawes, and the set-piece is something that can be worked on and addressed.
In the aftermath of the game, Palmer stated that he feels settled in the No.5 jersey following the departure of Steve Borthwick and I'm inclined to agree. For my money, his real competition this season would have been coming from Leicester's Geoff Parling, who had a superb season last year but came back off tour with England injured and hasn't played since.
Obviously you have to perform well but Palmer is the only out-and-out guy who calls the lineout for his club in the current squad. Dave Attwood can do the job as well but with Alex Brown at Gloucester he doesn't tend to. That has taken the pressure off Palmer and he has flourished.
Some players need to have pressure on them all the time to perform well and there are some players with whom pressure can have an adverse effect, they are constantly looking over their shoulders. It seems to me that Tom Palmer is one of those; since he has felt settled his performances have just got better and better.
England are back to the grindstone this weekend against Samoa and that raises questions about selection as they will not want to sacrifice momentum. I think Martin Johnson has got the balance right in his side for the game. The majority of the big names are there but the guys that he thinks could do with a rest will get that. I certainly wouldn't want to make sea-changes and maintaining some of the partnerships is important. England's recent performances have been built on belief and confidence and it's important to give the fringe players the assurance that they could slot in if required.
Australia, meanwhile, are off to Florence this weekend after back-to-back defeats to England and Munster. Even so, I wouldn't worry too much. The midweek games for Australia, and all teams, are really difficult. The first team has played together a fair bit but the midweek side only plays together on tour. It's basically a scratch side playing against Munster, who have had some recent European action and are battle hardened despite missing their international contingent.
I was disappointed that Leicester didn't beat Australia last week, I think the Tigers missed a trick by coming out of the blocks a bit slowly. They will feel that it is one that got away. Australia have the perfect opportunity to put things right this weekend against Italy and will want a big performance.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
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