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Ollie Lawrence's flexibility and explosive quality can make a big impact in England's midfield

Ollie Lawrence - Dave Rogers/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Ollie Lawrence - Dave Rogers/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

England’s injury worries have intensified before the Six Nations with both Jamie George and Elliot Daly withdrawing from this week’s training camp.

Jamie Blamire, the Newcastle Falcons hooker, has replaced George, who could yet return later this week subject to him progressing with return-to-play concussion protocols at Saracens.

Daly’s hamstring injury, which forced him off the field early in the second half of Saracens’ defeat by Edinburgh on Sunday, is understood to require further assessment.

Ollie Lawrence, the Bath centre, has been called up to Steve Borthwick’s squad, which is training at Twickenham on Tuesday ahead of their meeting with Scotland on Feb 4.

Blamire has featured in six Test matches and joins Tom Dunn and Jack Walker in an inexperienced group of hookers who number nine caps between them in the absence of George and Luke Cowan-Dickie, who suffered an ankle injury earlier this month.

England v South Africa - Twickenham 2021 England's Jamie Blamire is stopped - Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters
England v South Africa - Twickenham 2021 England's Jamie Blamire is stopped - Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

George McGuigan, now at Gloucester, pulled out of the squad on Monday because of a knee injury, with Courtney Lawes’ calf issue also sidelining him from this week’s training schedule. Dunn and David Ribbans were included as a result.

“Clearly, neither injury looked good but what I'd rather do is get the full information and then make a plan,” said Borthwick on Monday, stressing that neither Lawes nor McGuigan were definitively ruled out of the Calcutta Cup clash a week on Saturday.

“That's always the best way of doing it – get the information, get the facts and make a plan.”

Mako Vunipola would appear to have been cleared to train following the foot problem that caused him to miss Saracens’ Champions Cup game against Edinburgh.

“Would I want players to train in every session? Yeah, I would,” Borthwick added. “The reality that that's never the case. Every player is managed on an individual basis. Then there is a judgment call that I make farther down the track.

“The game against Scotland is a week on Saturday so there is plenty of water to go under the bridge between now and then and before I name that team. We've got a good squad and players who are desperate for the opportunity.

“Whenever there is a setback it opens up an opportunity for somebody else. Players have got to grab those opportunities with both hands and not let go. You need a squad where players are competing for places. We’ve got to build greater depth. These opportunities allow players to show they can be Test players.”

Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, suggested that George could be ready to face Scotland should he continue to progress through relevant protocols.

“My understanding is he could fully train on Thursday week if all the boxes are ticked and can do non-contact training on the Tuesday,” said McCall.

Lawrence can have more explosive impact at 13

Ollie Lawrence was due a stroke of luck.

Having been blooded in eerie Covid fixtures, he won seven senior caps between 2020 and 2021. The last of these, a 43-29 victory over USA, was cut short by concussion.

After that, hamstring trouble struck Lawrence and he was still at Worcester Warriors, his boyhood club, when the organisation sank into financial ruin. The 23-year-old has demonstrated admirable maturity, speaking out publicly against the treatment of Worcester employees and even taking in Ollie Wynn, the academy scrum-half who was turfed out of his accommodation.

Bath has been a life raft. Initially joining Johann van Graan’s squad on loan, before agreeing to a longer-term deal, Lawrence has been reunited with Cameron Redpath in a complementary midfield partnership that was first seen in England age-group sides.

Sizzling individual performances – notably a one-man demolition of Saracens’ defence in October – was not enough to convince Eddie Jones that he deserved another shot. The former England head coach reached into his barrel of cricketing analogies on the eve of the autumn, suggesting that Lawrence needed more runs on the board.

Elliot Daly’s troublesome hamstring has now opened the door. Steve Borthwick, whose final defeat as Leicester Tigers head coach came at the hands of Bath at The Rec, will have heeded Lawrence’s form.

Lawrence seems more impactful as an explosive, slicing outside centre than he would be as a shunting inside centre. Redpath, a composed distributor, allows him to adopt the former role with Bath.

The make-up of Borthwick’s squad would suggest that Lawrence, also a tough defender with breakdown skills, will be viewed that way with England as well. In Dan Kelly, Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell, Borthwick has three different options at inside centre. Henry Slade, Joe Marchant and Lawrence give him three contrasting outside centres.

Of course, Slade and Tuilagi have been seen in both 12 and 13 shirts for England, but there would seem to be a pragmatic template with which to build a centre partnership and provide options within a game. We know how much Borthwick values positional flexibility.

Daly’s absence is an untimely setback for England given he had forced his way back into the reckoning while operating as a roaming link-man for Saracens’ attack this season. Lawrence is more of a line-runner, yet possesses a tidy passing game as well. Viewing him as Tuilagi 2.0 always felt primitive.

With Nick Evans out to invigorate England’s attack, Lawrence can be an intriguing weapon.