Six Nations 2014: Stuart Lancaster backs Ben Morgan to step up
Six Nations 2014: Ben Morgan is the perfect replacement for Billy Vunipola, says Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster has labelled Ben Morgan as the perfect replacement for injured Billy Vunipola for the rest of the Six Nations.
Gloucester No8 Morgan, who has featured off the bench for England so far in the championship, has impressed in the little game time he has had and the England head coach believes he is ready to step up with Wales due to visit Twickenham on Sunday 9 March.
“I think it’s a dead-set like-for-like replacement. It’s a great position to be in to have those two players and it’s a great opportunity for Ben,” Lancaster said at a media conference at England’s training camp on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think his form has picked up in the period since the autumn internationals. He went back to Gloucester determined to improve on his performances. He was frustrated with himself. He has worked hard off the field, certainly in the gym, and is in good shape.”
Morgan spent three seasons with the Scarlets in West Wales and turned down a chance to represent England Saxons in 2011 as he flirted with the possibility of playing for Wales on qualification grounds at the end of the following season, but he eventually chose to play for England and made his debut in the 2012 Six Nations against Scotland, playing in all five matches.
An ankle injury picked up in the opening match of the 2013 Six Nations saw his chances in an England jersey limited as Tom Wood switched to No 8 from flanker for the rest of the campaign before the emergence of Vunipola on England’s summer tour to Argentina.
Despite playing back-up to Vunipola, Lancaster believes 25-year-old Morgan has regained his confidence.
“He played really well in a couple of Premiership games just before the Six Nations and he took confidence out of that,” he said. “On the back of that, I think his appearances off the bench for us have been strong. “He’s playing with confidence again now.”
Australia-born Vunipola has been one of England’s stand-out performers in the tournament so far and the 21-year-old is a big loss for England after an ankle injury ruled him out of the remaining two games and Lancaster recognises what the Saracens man brings to big games, but believes he is replaceable.
“Billy is still a very young international player, but I thought he demonstrated fantastic potential in the autumn Tests and at the start of the Six Nations,” Lancaster said. “He has got a great work ethic, a fantastic carrying game and he thrives on big games. So it’s a big loss. He gave us a lot of go-forward.
“But I think you’ve seen in his appearances off the bench Ben Morgan’s ability to do that also. I know he has been itching for an opportunity and sometimes they happen for you. It’s been created for him and I’m sure he’ll be ready for it a week on Sunday.”