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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Courtney Lawes exclusive: ‘This is the tightest England group I have been involved with’

“We said at the start of camp that if we want to be a team that’s going to win stuff, then we have to have everybody feeling comfortable and feeling like they’re a part of the team – and that everyone would contribute massively, even if you don’t get to play at the weekend. And the boys out there play for everyone, not just each other,” says Lawes, who returns to club action at Bristol on Friday night.

“We’ve only just started. We’ve only been together as a proper group for a month. But we have certainly come on leaps and bounds and it feels very tight-knit. Obviously we haven’t come under much pressure in that we haven’t lost yet, so we are going to go through tests, but I think we have made a very good start.

“I am sure if the boys keep buying into it and really make the effort, then we can go a long way.”

Plenty of previous England squads, including under Jones, have sought a club mentality in the national squad, so why does this feel different? “I suppose one of the big differences is we’ve got so many young lads in now, who are fresh and have not played a lot of international rugby and not been with the team much,” he adds. “It gives you an opportunity to really shape the team culture.

“I think as a leadership group, we’ve tried our best to share that culture around each other and be a tight-knit team.

“Because everyone wants to be part of it, then that has made a big difference. Obviously you’re going to like some people more than others, but eventually enjoying everybody’s company is how you really become a team and that when the pressure comes, gets tighter rather than splintering.”

The bonding over the past month included going out for dinners together, visiting a private cinema as well as many games of pool, chess and cards.

Lawes says the shift to a player-led culture has been the key. “It really feels like we have been given a clean sheet,” he says.

“The last camp was definitely very different to anything I’ve been under with Eddie.

“We’ve really been asked to take charge of the team culture and kind of make it our own.

“When you do that, it’s just more kind of genuine, because you work at it yourselves.

“Obviously, we’ve got to speed up the process because we’re not there for long, but it’s a genuine team culture when you can bring it all together yourselves and the leadership group is setting an example.

“I think it showed how tight we were out there (in the second half against South Africa). When we came under the pressure, we didn’t shy away from it. We just got on with the next job.

“You know, people make mistakes, then, you know, again, just get on with it, no worries.”

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