With Billy Vunipola missing and flak flying in all directions, England need leaders like never before. Step forward 37-year-old Nick Easter...
Stuart Lancaster is facing the biggest game of his coaching career on Saturday at Twickenham when the Wallabies come to town. Lose that and England will be out of town and hosting a party they are not invited to, but it is not all doom and gloom down at Pennyhill Park, the England training base.
The knives are already out for ‘the boss’, the captain Chris Robshaw, the RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie and the bloke who sorts out the parking on match-days.
But win against Australia and Lancaster will be the greatest coach since Carwyn James was leading the Lions to glory in New Zealand in 1971, and everyone’s job will be safe for another couple of weeks, at least.
Most coaches need a bit of luck and Lancaster had a massive dollop of it this week when he called Nick Easter up to the squad.
Billy Vunipola was crocked with a knee injury so the 37-year old Harlequin, who probably should have been in the squad in the first place, is parachuted straight into the match-day 23 against Australia, which tells you two things.
Firstly the coach wants a specialized No 8 on the bench because he is not sure how long Ben Morgan is going to last and secondly he wants a bit of good-old fashioned rugby nous in his group. How he didn’t pick Easter in the first place is anyone’s guess but he’s in there now.
Easter has been around the block more than once and will be the one link with the 2007 World Cup campaign when England, who played like a pub team in the pool stages, managed to get to the final. He is also a confidant and friend of Robshaw’s.
Vunipola is going to win more caps than Easter ever will but for now he does not strike us as the sort of leader England are requiring with backs against the wall.
Robshaw has copped plenty of stick this week for not taking the three points on offer at the last knockings of the game against Wales.
A worse decision was the one that saw England chuck the ball to the front of the line-out making it easy for the Welsh pack to shove them into touch and win the game.
You can’t imagine Easter letting a decision like that get made in the heat of the battle and he is one player who Robshaw will be able to lean on late on Saturday night.
In the glory days Martin Johnson had plenty of leaders to help him out – Lawrence Dallaglio, Neil Back, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson and Will Greenwood would all have had their say and it is hard to see that little lot having a collective brain freeze.
Robshaw needs all the help he can get and Easter brings a bucket load of experience and a decent helping of street-wise expertise.
Easter knows why he has been called up as he explained earlier this week. “Just through my sheer number of years in the game I’ve been in pressure situations,” he explained. “I have an understanding of what sort of advice to give and I’d like to lend my experience.
“I can definitely offer him support. When you are pro sportsmen, whether its disappointment or elation, you have to make sure you stay on a level, you can’t get carried away when you get a result like Wales or when you suffer on the other side. You have to make sure that you reason all your actions in the 80 minutes and treat it the same. I’ll give him my two-pennies if he wants it, but we’ve seen this guy bounce back many a time.”
It might be a sign of desperation that England reckon a man who is on the downhill slope to 40 is the player to get them through to the quarter-finals. But he has been here before and England were in a bigger mess eight years ago than they are now.
If he pulls this one out of the fire it really would be something to tell the grandchildren about.