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Ben Earl has given England exactly what they need — now new role can help them evolve

It was exactly what England needed, right when they needed it. It had been a disastrous six minutes for Steve Borthwick’s side, Ollie Chessum’s sin binning compounded by Ethan Roots’ hauling down of a maul; suddenly, England were down two men and seven points having controlled the flow of the opening quarter and threatening to capitulate.

Maro Itoje’s smothering of Ioan Lloyd soon after the restart gave England an opportunity, but it was Ben Earl who ensured they took it. Surveying the situation in front of him, Earl would not have felt encouraged as he bound in at the base of England’s seven-man scrum five metres from the Wales line. If the presence of wing Tommy Freeman packing down on the openside flank was worry enough, then the identity of the left-hand lock that he was grabbing on to would have given Earl a real fright, Sam Underhill surely the smallest second row England have ever employed, even in an emergency.

The job for Earl, it seemed, was simple – extract, escape, and allow England’s attack to reload from stabler breakdown ball. He went one better. Corralling Jamie George’s hook with his left foot, the number eight was away in a flash on a carronade charge. Wrestling through Alex Mann’s tackle, Earl brushed aside Sam Costelow and forced through Cameron Winnett just enough to unfurl his left arm. A firm place of the ball on the line, and England were on the board.

Ben Earl was named player of the match in England’s Six Nations win over Wales

Such set-piece scores have become vanishingly rare but showed Earl’s explosive skillset. Team manager Richard Hill collared Earl in the dressing room, urging him to seek out Lawrence Dallaglio’s not dissimilar score against Wales in 2000 – Earl is not yet close to keeping