England have struggled to find a settled second row partnership since the 1950s but after a stellar Six Nations, they may have got one now
England have played 50 Test matches since the 2011 Rugby World Cup and, as a cricket fan, Eddie Jones will know the significance of raising your bat for a half century.
This is pushing the boat out a bit but you would not be carted off by the blokes in white coats if you thought George Kruis and Maro Itoje will knock up least half a century of appearances in partnership at lock more than any other in English history. Unless Jones really does think Itoje is better off at six, although after saying Chris Robshaw was his player of the Six Nations so far, he might not make that switch, at least for the foreseeable future.
A properly settled second row duo has been a long time coming and Jones may have stumbled on it although Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Dave Attwood will probably have something to say about that.
In the first game of Stuart Lancaster’s reign the starting locks, at Murrayfield in 2012, were Mouritz Botha and Tom Palmer and if you got that bit of trivia right then you should get off Google and get out more. Since then England have fielded 14 different second row combinations with the most popular being the pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, who have done the business 10 times, with a Launchbury and Geoff Parling combo running out on nine occasions.
In the past, David Marques and John Currie locked the England scrum 22 times, a sequence that included the 1957 Grand Slam, but some of the most well-known partnerships did not do it as often as you would have thought.
Martin Johnson and Ben Kay, who teamed up for a Slam and World Cup glory in 2003, ran out 18 times in cahoots for England, but hundreds of times for Leicester, while Johnson and Martin Bayfield, jogged on 18 times in a white shirt including a Five Nations clean sweep in 1995. Even the fabled pairing of Bill Beaumont and Maurice Colclough, who landed the four-timer in 1980, only started together 12 times for their country so finding a settled engine room is hardly a new problem for England coaches.
It is not as if England have not had some long-serving locks – Johnson won 84 England caps, Simon Shaw 71, Danny Grewcock 69, Ben Kay 62, Steve Borthwick 57 and the mighty Wade Dooley 55, between 1985 and 1993, when they were not being tossed around like confetti.
Unfortunately that little lot did not manage to play together that much but Kruis and Itoje could be in for the long haul, whilst also playing together week in week out at Saracens which is another bonus for Jones.
It is all about the timing and like London buses and aged 26 and 21 seem to have come along together at the right time.
The South African pairing of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, who wore the green and gold together 63 times and won everything they could for club and country while they were at it, made their debuts in 2002 and 2001 respectively. The Boks got lucky with that couple and maybe Jones has got lucky too.
The Australian said in the aftermath of the win over Wales last weekend that “Kruis and Itoje could be locking our scrum for a long time to come.”
They dovetail ok, that is for sure. Botha was well-known as the enforcer with Matfield being the line-out supremo and you can similarities in the current England pair.
Itoje is more than a bruiser of course, as shown in his role in Anthony Watson’s try against Wales, and Kruis is more than a line-out shrewdie sat in front of a laptop analysing the opposition. The latter’s contribution in the last two games has been overshadowed by the hoopla around Itoje but he has been one of England’s players of the Six Nations.
Marques and Currie came from a different era and there are very few records surviving from their times as internationals. That mark of 22 straight Tests for England in partnership could be the next one to go.