COURTNEY Lawes is ready to strike fear into the French ‘bully boys’ when he is unleashed from the England back row for the first time.
Lawes will line up at blindside flanker tomorrow as one of three changes made by head coach Stuart Lancaster, all of which signal England’s abrasive intent to tackle the French head-on.
Dylan Hartley has replaced Tom Youngs at hooker and Manu Tuilagi returns at outside centre, where he will start opposite Mathieu Bastareaud in a seismic midfield showdown.
Lawes has been an effective high-impact replacement for England so far this RBS 6 Nations.
Now he is ready to set the tone from the outset at Twickenham.
‘‘That is so important. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve been put in the team, to bring that physicality because the French are going to bring it as well,’’ Lawes said.
‘‘You can see from their pack and centres they want to try and bully us. It’s really important we put a stop to that as soon as possible.’’ Lawes relishes his role as England’s enforcer. He wants to be the player opponents fear most when they step on to the field.
The 23-year-old has been urged by his Twitter followers to repeat the brutal tackle which flattened French scrum-half Morgan Parra in the 2011 European Challenge Cup final.
The video of that tackle has had nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.
‘‘You take your shots as they come. If I get a shot I’ll certainly take it,’’ said Lawes, who believes memories of that incident could prey on Parra’s mind.
‘‘As much as people don’t like to admit it, there are people that you don’t want to run at and you will always be aware of as a player when they are in the opposite team.
‘‘I’d like to be one of those people but I don’t know if I am.
‘‘I’m not going to big myself up or anything, but I’d certainly aspire to be one of those people that you have to watch out for.’’ Although Lawes has never lined up in the back row for England, he has recent experience playing there for Northampton. He averages around four more tackles a game than when he plays in the second row.
‘‘His line-speed and physicality as a defender, his acceleration on to the ball as a carrier shows me he is ready,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘From a set-piece point of view we have a 6ft 8in guy at the back of the lineout. Physically he is in the best shape I have seen him.’’ Tuilagi, England’s powerhouse centre, is the one player Lawes does not enjoy running into. Between them, England will look to shut down the French at source.
England were successful in that regard against Ireland’s more artistic midfield of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.
Now they are ready to contain the power of Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana.
‘‘A big hit is all about timing.
For me in any game I hope those moments come,’’ said Tuilagi, who will reprise his centre partnership with England’s defence captain Brad Barritt.
‘‘This is another challenge for me and Brad to keep us safe.
“The French team is fantastic.
They are some huge men and there will be some collisions everywhere.’’ When asked whether going low was the best way to stop an 18-stone juggernaut like Bastareaud, Tuilagi joked: ‘‘For me, my tackling technique is never that low anyway – just below the forehead!
‘‘Bastareaud is a huge guy with skill. He is going to take some stopping.’’ England’s defence set the tone in Paris last year, with Chris Ashton’s heavy tackle on Dimitri Szarzewski teeing up Tuilagi to score an early try.
‘‘We pride ourselves on turning that defence into attack,’’ Tuilagi said. ‘‘We’ve really put teams under pressure with our defence.
‘‘I remember last year it looked as if France were going to score and all of a sudden Ashton has come in and smashed their hooker, I’ve got the ball and I’ve got 50metres to run and no-one in front of me.’’