Veteran Harlequin Nick Easter is a man on a mission for the remainder of this season, hell-bent on proving his critics wrong by claiming the most unlikely of spots in Stuart Lancaster’s England World Cup squad.
A combination of impressive form for Quins, coupled with an untimely injury for Gloucester No.8 Ben Morgan, saw Easter recalled for this season’s Six Nations after more than three years in the international wilderness.
The 36-year-old’s last international start came in the defeat by France in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup, and he was subsequently omitted from the England set-up once Lancaster became coach in early 2012.
But his ability to cover at No.8 as well as in the second row saw him feature as a replacement for England against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France in this year’s Six Nations, with the veteran even winning his 50th international cap in the loss in Dublin.
Easter’s return to England colours has been seen by most as simply short-term option as the likes of Morgan and Wasp Joe Launchbury battle their way back to full fitness.
But Easter, who is also first-team coach at Wimbledon RFC, sees his international return very differently and is determined to force his way into Lancaster’s World Cup thinking as he looks to make his mark in the final weeks of the season.
“It’s going to be tough making the World Cup squad with Ben Morgan coming back to full fitness,” said Easter, speaking at the Rosslyn Park HSBC National Schools Sevens.
“But I back myself to make it and I just hope I get a chance in the final World Cup warm-ups.
“Then the coaches have to make the decision from there about whether to select me or not but I back myself to make it.
“Our chances for the World Cup are as good as they were before. We have always had the players, it is just making sure we turn up for the big games and apply it.
“I would not mind becoming the oldest scorer for England at the World Cup – it would be a really nice thing to add to my career and I’m now so desperate to get the opportunity – I will be doing everything I can to impress and earn selection.”
England came within six points of winning the Six Nations title this season after dismantling France at Twickenham on the final weekend of the Championship, with only an Ireland hammering of Scotland meaning Easter is not adding yet more silverware to an already impressive CV.
A host of England players sparkled during the tournament, namely Jonathan Joseph and Ben Youngs, but it was the performances of Saracen Billy Vunipola at the base of the scrum that caught Easter’s eye.
In previous campaigns, Vunipola’s fitness and inability to last 80 minutes had been called into question by Lancaster and his England coaching staff.
But despite the form of Vunipola hampering his international chances, Easter is convinced the England youngster is now the real deal on the international stage.
“Billy Vunipola has had a very good tournament,” added Easter. “He has got back to what he does best which is being a wrecking-ball for us, which is generally the job of a No.8 but he has got more to come from his game I think which can only be exciting for English rugby.
“He has got a big England future ahead of him. You look at last year and he was playing around 50 minutes and then being subbed but now this year he’s managed to play five 80 minute games in a row so he is always developing.
“I’m still gutted about the end to the Six Nations; I feel the same as I did after the game. We had chances to win it and unfortunately we just came up short – that’s the overriding feeling amongst the players.
“But there were so many positive as well to take from the tournament; namely the form, fitness and performances of Billy Vunipola – there are things to build on for us.”
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