Courtney Lawes might not be getting the international swansong that some of his teammates are getting against Argentina in the bronze final of the World Cup, but he still left the Test stage on good terms.
The flanker had nothing to prove to his teammates, opponents or the rest of the rugby world in his 105th and final England appearance against South Africa in the semi-final, and while he lost, he still put in a performance which shows why he will go down as an England great. It was unknown at the time, but he announced his international retirement in the wake of the loss, and Steve Borthwick’s decision to rest him for England’s final match means that was the last time he pulled on a white jersey.
The 34-year-old’s teammates have been left to eulogise him this week now the curtain has been drawn on his international career, as Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill did. The pair were effusive in their praise for the Northampton Saints star ahead of their clash with the Pumas at the Stade de France.
As someone who has equally spent time playing in the back row as well as the second row, Itoje commended the way the five-cap British & Irish Lion has been able to evolve across his career with England. Having made his debut in 2008 as a lock, Lawes spent a large chunk of his career in the engine room before spending the last few years of his Test career as a blindside flanker.
“He’s one so those players who’s evolved over time and found a way to get better,” Itoje said.
“He’s played across different eras, he played with the man to my right [Borthwick] back in the early 2000s and he’s still playing today. The way he’s evolved his game is amazing and he’s a great man, a great person. The boys have loved being around him. He’s set a good example with his dedication on the field. For all the squad, he’s going to be missed.”
Underhill is set to replace Lawes in the England back row on Friday, and while he is stylistically different player, the Bath flanker highlighted how versatile his retiring teammate is.
“It’s hard to think of someone who is as good at as many things as he is,” Underhill said ahead of his first appearance of the World Cup.
“An incredible lineout forward, incredible in defence, a good ball-carrier, his work-rate is phenomenal. He’s a great example of a world class back row. I can’t think of anyone better I’ve played with. He’ll be sorely missed.”