The setting is rural Northamptonshire; a charming, period building that would not look out of place in Midsomer Murders.
All four of Courtney Lawes’ children are out at school or nursery, so the only sound cutting through the countryside silence is the clucking of Silkie chickens, roaming the back yard. Their eggs are for sale by the box, outside the front door, where passers-by leave money in a jar.
‘It’s the kids’ little business empire,’ says Lawes, with a chuckle, as he stoops his head to get through the low doorway. The blissful village life is far removed from his trails of destruction on a rugby pitch. Then again, there is more to the two-time Lions forward than meets the eye.
Courtney Lawes’ inclusion in Warren Gatland’s squad on Thursday took many by surprise
The forward has not played a match since tearing his pectoral muscle off the bone in February
Having not played a match since tearing his pectoral muscle off the bone in February, Lawes’ inclusion in Warren Gatland’s squad on Thursday took many by surprise. He has spent the last few months on parenting and rehabilitation duties, while also working with the Centre for Social Justice thinktank.
‘When I’ve not been working or picking up the kids from school, I’ve had some time to do a couple of articles and offer my support,’ says the 32-year-old Lawes.
‘Last year, I replied to Marcus Rashford’s tweet about getting food to kids in need. What he’s done is brilliant, but I stated that we need to look at why kids end up in these situations and everyone jumped on it. That’s Twitter for you, I guess.
‘We shouldn’t just plaster over things, but I guess people don’t want to hear that these days, do they? If people don’t like your opinion, then they will try to get you fired or something like that. They want to silence you. It’s like mob rule, but I’ve got my own opinions and I’ll express them.’
It is Friday afternoon, 24 hours after Gatland’s squad announcement, and Lawes has taken some time out before the school run.
‘My view is that we need to promote two-parent households, marriage and stable families. We didn’t have much money, but I did have my parents. My half-brother from my dad’s side had a different path to me and got into gangs, drugs and went to prison. He’s out now and he’s sorted his life out, but it shows what a lack of stability can do to children in low-income areas.
‘My mum and dad got married, stayed together and waited eight years until they could afford to have my little brother. They made good choices and provided me with the platform to do what I do now. I want to do the exact same for my kids and push them along in life. That’s how you go from working class to having a comfortable happy life.
Lawes spoke about the reaction from his surprise inclusion for the upcoming South Africa tour
‘Sports people should use the fanbase they’ve created as a platform. I don’t think that should happen on the pitch because a lot of people use the spectacle itself as an outlet to get away from the ills of society.
‘I don’t think mixing sport and politics is a good thing. The rugby pitch itself is not my platform but here in public, through interviews, social media or whatever is when you should use your voice.’
Lawes’ voice will be heard a little louder as he prepares to take on the Springboks. His phone lights up repeatedly through the course of the interview, with messages of congratulations flooding in from old friends, family, team-mates and coaches.
‘It’s nice because a lot of people didn’t expect it,’ he says. ‘I’ve had hundreds of messages and I haven’t got through half of them yet. I’ve had loads of nice messages from Northampton fans on Instagram.
‘You get a few on Twitter saying ‘You’re not even playing for England… you shouldn’t be in the squad’. That’s their opinion but I ain’t interested. There are a lot of people on there to talk c**p and tear you down. It is what it is. I’ve not been playing for England because I’ve been injured.’ What exactly happened?’I tore the two pec muscles off my arm during a fitness drill during England camp.
Lawes was not on the initial save-the-date mailing list, but the Lions were prepared to pay £100,000 in administrative costs
‘It was a freak injury. I was racing Ben Earl, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola and we did a down-up at the end of each sprint. I pushed off the ground and just felt this pop in my arm. The nerve endings were pulled off with the tendon so you don’t feel much. I put it in a sling and had an operation.
‘They cut a piece of bone out of my arm, put the tendon back in, pulled the fibres through the bone marrow and that’s it. It’s a more robust way than putting it back on with some screws.
‘I’ll be ready to go way before the tour. It’s going to be wicked. After previous injuries, I’ve shown that I can come back and pick up from where I left off. I’ll get some game time with Saints in a couple of weeks, so it’s just about picking up some form to get in the Test team.
‘I’m not going to just play in the midweek games. Why would you ever be happy just going along to make up the numbers? Nobody gave me a chance of getting in the Test team last time and I think I was unlucky not to get a start, to be honest. I’m going there to get in the Test team.’
No other Lions forwards offer Lawes’ versatility. He is able to play lock or flanker, while also offering explosive physicality and lineout leadership. Lawes was not on the initial save-the-date mailing list, but the Lions were prepared to pay £100,000 in administrative costs to select him as their additional, 37th man.
No other Lions forwards offer Lawes’ versatility as he is able to play lock or flanker
He will be swapping his bubble of tranquillity in the East Midlands for a Covid-secure bubble in South Africa, but there is nowhere he would rather be.
‘This one will be a little different with all of the Covid restrictions,’ he says. ‘We’ll have to find new ways to bond and entertain ourselves and that’s just the way it is. Hygiene is going to be incredibly important because if one of us catches Covid we’re buggered.
‘Hycolin are one of my sponsors so I’ll be stocking up the boys with hand sanitiser! Going into a bubble is a big sacrifice but luckily my wife is amazing and that frees me up. I’m just planning to go there and do my thing. I totally understand why someone like Ben Youngs would rather stay at home with his pregnant wife. If my missus needed me to stay at home, I wouldn’t go either.
‘I loved the 2017 tour… I’ve still got all my kit. South Africa play a style of game that I enjoy playing against. We’ll need to front up and we’ve got the best players from four countries to do that. It’s going to be awesome.’
Courtney Lawes is the latest brand ambassador to work with leading anti-viral cleaning brand, Hycolin, who are supporting him throughout the 2021 season.