Courtney Lawes to retire from international rugby after conclusion of World Cup

After this World Cup, Lawes will call time on an international career which has spanned 14 years
©Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

When England's World Cup squad was finalised back in August, one of the details which caught the eye was that the original 33-man group selected by Steve Borthwick had racked up over 1,400 international appearances between them.

Weighing in with a total of 97 of those caps was Courtney Lawes, and the forward went on to surpass his century against Fiji in the World Cup warm-ups before adding to his tally in the tournament itself.

But after featuring in four World Cups for his country, Lawes has confirmed he will be retiring from international rugby at the conclusion of this campaign.

The vice-captain is most certainly allowed to raise his proverbial bat with pride even though there won't be a dream end to his innings following England's agonising 16-15 loss to South Africa on Saturday night.

Speaking to a huddle of journalists in the bowels of the Stade de France after that semi-final defeat, the 34-year-old said: "This was my last World Cup. The kids are at that age where they need their Dad around. It will be good to be with them more, to provide some well-needed structure to the mob!

"It's a bit of an end of an era, but it's been a real honour for me to represent England for so long. It flies by. I'm proud of the journey I've been on. It's not always been the ups. Plenty of downs in there, but I've pushed through.

"To be able to finish with this group, it's something I'll treasure forever."

Regardless of whether Borthwick allows him to add to his 105 caps in Friday's 'bronze final' against Argentina, it has been an international journey to savour for Lawes. Three Six Nations titles - including the Grand Slam in 2016 - to go alongside playing in four World Cups is some going, and the Northampton Saint sits fifth in the list of most-capped England men's players of all time.

He has always commanded respect and has led by example, and wearing the shirt has been a source of immense fulfilment for Lawes.

"I think, as hard as it is being away from your family and stuff like that, you almost have another family," Lawes continued when asked what he would miss most about Test rugby. "You really feel like that, especially when you're away in camps like World Cup camps.

"It's five months, staying with your brothers. I'll definitely miss the boys, the banter and all the stuff we get up to when we're not training. I'll miss the hard work as well, and I'll definitely miss pulling the jersey on and giving it everything."

Returning to the list of England's all-time appearance makers, Lawes is behind three of his current international teammates; Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Dan Cole.

Throughout their time in France, there has been a narrative that many of this England squad are playing in their final World Cup. Certainly for Youngs and Cole -  as well as for the likes of Danny Care, Joe Marler, Jamie George and Jonny May - they could also be hanging up their international boots alongside Lawes in the not-too-distant future.

While Borthwick did come in for some stinging criticism for picking such an experienced squad for this World Cup, you also get the sense it has allowed the head coach to begin shaping 'England 2.0.'

When I chatted to a couple of journalists on Friday, they touched on Eddie Jones' attempt to build a 'new England' following the 2019 World Cup. For all intents and purposes, that failed miserably but in the aftermath of this heartbreaking semi-final exit against the Springboks, perhaps it can be different this time around.

Plans are afoot to find natural successors to Lawes et al, and perhaps the performance of 22-year-old George Martin is a good place to begin. On just his fourth Test start, the Leicester Tigers lock was brilliant against the world champions with Lawes namechecking the youngster in his post-match thoughts.

Added to this, Lawes' club teammate, Alex Mitchell, adapted brilliantly to the highest level on Saturday night and with Youngs and Care in the twilight of their respective international careers, the scrum-half will take some budging out of the nine shirt.

Ben Earl has arguably been the star of this World Cup for England and will surely be someone Borthwick will look to build his squad around, while keeping Farrell in the mix and experienced heads such as Maro Itoje will be crucial to their evolution.

Seven of the match-day 23 against South Africa were under the age of 25 and while some may fear that losing a player such as Lawes might leave a void in terms of quality and leadership, there is something vibrant about England's young crop, and Borthwick knows his squad has the capability to grow.

‘Post-tournament, I am really happy to have a longer discussion around that [the development of the squad] he said. "You will respect that we’ve got this game on Friday night [v Argentina]. Secondly, the fact that we had more players aged 25 and under than any other team in the semi-finals – added to Marcus Smith’s unavailability due to the HIA – it says there are a lot of good young players around who have benefited from this experience.

‘There are some players with some experience who still have plenty of years in an England shirt ahead of them and I think this game on Friday night is another important game for us. It is important for so many reasons. I want players playing big games at World Cups and I want them having that experience, and I think that’s another aspect which will benefit all of these players and this team as it moves forward."

The England boss also paid tribute to Lawes referencing his importance to the side, his 'low tackles, that cut the attackers down in their path' as well as his game intelligence.

Following Friday's meeting with Argentina, the curtain will come down on Lawes' England career but even by his own admission, he feels under Borthwick, people will now see 'where this team can really go'.

A doff of the cap to the legend Lawes then, and a nod to a new-look England.