Rugby

Ben Earl’s ‘ceiling is way off’ as England star strives to become ‘world class’

The 26-year-old proved an unstoppable force from close range in a man-of-the-match display against Ireland on Saturday.

Ben Earl, pictured in training on Monday
Ben Earl, pictured in training on Monday Ben Earl, pictured in training on Monday (John Walton/PA)

Ben Earl is unsatisfied with his rampaging display against Ireland as his pursuit of becoming world class demands he develops into the complete back row.

England’s number eight was named official man of the match for the second time in this Guinness Six Nations after providing the tip of the spear in Saturday’s 23-22 upset of Andy Farrell’s defending champions.

Using a combination of speed, power and footwork, he carried 19 times for 140 metres and crossed for a vital second-half try as he continues to prove an unstoppable force from close range.

Earl scores England’s third try against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday
England v Ireland – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium Earl scores England’s third try against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

While the 26-year-old Saracen says he is aiming for world-class status, his overall stats after four rounds of the Six Nations are evidence he is already there – more carries than any other player, second behind Ireland’s James Lowe for metres carried and sixth for metres gained.

But as the tournament’s most potent forward in attack, he heads to Lyon for Saturday’s clash with France aiming to elevate another essential part of his game.

“Ben can get a lot better,” said England’s head of strength and conditioning Aled Walters, who described Earl’s ability to move laterally and then “punch forward immediately” as his point of difference.

“He was happy with his performance in attack at the weekend but disappointed with his performance in defence. So his ceiling is way off.

Earl in action against Ireland
England v Ireland – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium Earl in action against Ireland (David Davies/PA)

“Ben is striving to become one of those players on the world stage. I remember the term ‘superior discontent’. That is what Ben has. It will be good to watch how he progresses.”

Earl was an outsider for England in the build-up to the World Cup with all 15 of his caps won as a replacement, but by the end of the competition he had emerged as the squad’s standout player.

That form has continued into the Six Nations despite the interruption of a knee injury to the point he is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

“I’m trying to take my game to a place it’s not been before. You have to nit-pick and look at your performance as a whole,” Earl said.

“That’s especially being a back row because it’s not all about what you do with the ball in hand, it’s not all about what you do without the ball, it’s a combination of both.

“I’m trying to get to a point where both facets of my game are at a world class standard. That’s not the case now and it’s certainly something I’m working very hard towards.

“I’ve made no secret to where I want to be in the game. Has wanting to be world class driven me more? Probably not, I think I put a bit more pressure on myself than most. It’s something I’ve just had to live with.

“It just feels like we as a team are just going to get better and better and the more I can contribute to that then the better.”

Self-belief has never been an issue for Earl, according to his former Saracens team-mate and current England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth, who insists an important aspect of his game has gone unrecognised.

England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth, pictured, feels Earl does not get enough credit for his “toughness”
England v Ireland – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth, pictured, feels Earl does not get enough credit for his “toughness” (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I actually sat next to him in the changing rooms at Saracens from when he was like 18 or 19 coming into the squad,” Wigglesworth said.

“He got essentially booted up the arse every day at training because he had some confidence. At 19 it was not always backed up.

“But he keeps getting into battles. He keeps wanting the ball, he keeps putting himself in great positions.

“And I don’t think he probably gets much credit for his toughness. Because whatever has just happened, he’ll do the next thing to the absolute best of his ability. There’s no going into his shell.

“For Ben, this is years of hard work that are allowing him to flourish at Test level. And he’s got more in him.”