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The position change that rejuvenated Courtney Lawes’ career

Standing at over two metres tall, Courtney Lawes has been a giant of English rugby for over a decade. Missing out on selection for England’s bronze final against Argentina, the test match centurion will retire from international rugby following the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup.

Welsh players attempt to tackle Courtney Lawes
Alasdair Massie via Flickr

Lawes won his 105th and final England cap in last week’s semi-final against South Africa. He has played at four World Cups and earned five caps for the British and Irish Lions across two tours.

He made his Northampton Saints debut in the English second tier against Esher in 2007. Just two years later he was wearing white at Twickenham, packing down alongside his latest England coach, Steve Borthwick. He has since won three Six Nations titles and started the 2019 World Cup final.

Besides bone-crunching physicality, what has made Lawes’ career so remarkable is his versatility. Since 2016, it has become a trend for locks to be deployed at blindside flanker to give their sides another strong lineout option – Lawes being at the forefront of this.

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Being used alongside Maro Itoje for England as a third lineout jumper. Lawes has since transcended the second row, becoming a genuine flanker, and England’s first choice.

His last start in the second row came in the British and Irish Lions hastily arranged second fixture against the Cell C Sharks, in July 2021; as a last-minute replacement for the unwell Itoje.

Besides this late call-up, Lawes’ last start at lock was pre-pandemic, in Saints’ Champions Cup clash with Lyon in January 2020. He has been utilised exclusively as a flanker by England since the World Cup in 2019.

His transition into the back row was gradual. First named on the flank for England in 2013, his versatility has long been clear.

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Becoming a near-permanent fixture for England in the second row, it took until 2018 for Lawes to make his next appearance at blindside, as part of the third-lock trend. He established himself as a ‘five-and-a-half’ for club and country until the 2019 World Cup. 

In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, Lawes said:

“I prefer playing at six because you get to make more tackles and spend more time in the looser play. That means you’ll get a couple more carries in the game, which is a good thing for me. I’ll play wherever I’m picked, but I definitely prefer playing six.”

His move to the blindside has resulted in a late-career resurgence. Named as vice-captain for the 2023 World Cup, he has led his nation on 12 occasions, transforming himself into a genuinely world-class blindside at the tail-end of his career.


  • Henry Ollis-Brown

    Henry is a sports journalist with a passion for rugby and motorsports. He is a keen supporter of Harlequins and England rugby. He can normally be found researching an obscure fact to put into an article.