By Mitch Phillips
BAGSHOT, England, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Courtney Lawes loves a big hit, even when he knocks himself out in the process, and England's enforcer is desperate to leave his mark when he returns to the starting lineup for Saturday's Six Nations meeting with France.
Lawes missed England's opening win over Scotland through injury but delivered a memorable cameo off the bench in Dublin with England leading 9-6 but down to 14 men late in the game.
Ireland's Rob Kearney broke clear and had one man to beat. Unfortunately for him that man was Lawes, who duly smashed the speedy fullback into the mud to prevent what could have been a match-winning score.
Hardly out of the textbook, Lawes hit first with his head, was knocked out and soon afterwards was forced out of the game.
"I was out, yeah, but I did need to make that tackle," Lawes told reporters on Thursday after his recall in the unaccustomed position of blindside flanker.
"You put your body on the line for the team. I didn't want to come off but they made me. I did say afterwards though that that's not the way to tackle."
Even when he gets it wrong, Lawes usually achieves his aim. He was furious to be yellow-carded in a club game last week when he insisted he had been pulling out of a tackle that left an opponent flattened while a quick search of YouTube footage reveals evidence of how destructive he can be when everything comes together.
"The big hit is so important and I think one of the main reasons I've been put in the team is to bring that physicality," said Lawes, who weighs in at 118 kgs.
"The French are going to bring it too, you can see that with their selections. They are going to try to bully us and it's really important we put a stop to that."
In the wake of England's increasingly disciplined performances under Stuart Lancaster, however, Lawes is conscious of the need to tread the fine legal line when it comes to aggression.
"It's important for me to keep a lid on things," he said. "I could get too caught up in it all, get over-emotional about being back in the starting team. But you have to think clearly about the job you need to do, where you need to be and making the right decisions."
Lawes has won all but one of his previous 17 caps at lock but says he actually prefers playing on the flank. At 2.01 metres he obviously gives England a considerable extra lineout option alongside second rows Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling but Lancaster said there was more to the selection than that.
"He's one of our best defenders, he's hungry to carry in attack and gives us options but with France liking to drive from the lineouts he will help us to put the pressure on them," he said.
With the likes of Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell outside him, England look to have considerable defensive power and Lawes is relishing getting among it all.
"I definitely feel the strength of my game suits six more than lock but because of my height I usually get put in the second row," he said
"Last time I played six for Northampton I made 18 tackles, probably four or five more than from second row. You can carry more as you're out of the scrum earlier and you can get set earlier for tackles.
"Six and the second row roles are so similar these days that it really doesn't make much difference but I prefer the extra time I get from the flanker position."
Despite making his England debut in 2009 Saturday will be his first start in a Six Nations match. A combination of injuries, bad luck and suspension - he got a two-game ban for a late hit with his knee in England's opening match against Argentina in the 2011 World Cup - have combined to repeatedly prevent him establishing himself as a regular starter.
Still only 23, he is already looking at the "youngsters" as likes of 21-year-old Launchbury have moved ahead of him in the pecking order.
"I'm only 23 but those young bucks definitely keep you on your toes," he said. "I've had to buck up my ideas since Joe Launchbury stepped up and I'm playing better because of that." (Editing by John Mehaffey)