THE ENGLAND No.8 jersey for the first Test against New Zealand this summer might appear to be Ben Morgan’s by default, but former World Cup winner Lewis Moody insists the Gloucester man fully deserves a starring role.
Morgan, who grew up in Kingswood, was one of 20 players named in Stuart Lancaster’s first training squad before another 21 names were added once domestic and European finals had been decided.
Omitted from the first group that flew out – and therefore ruled out of the first All Blacks clash – was Saracens’ Billy Vunipola, Morgan’s main rival for the Red Rose No.8 jersey after he started the first three Six Nations games this year.
Injury opened the door for Morgan and he grabbed his chance with both hands, impressing against both Wales and Italy and ending the campaign as though he had never been away.
Exeter Chiefs’ Dave Ewers is still in Lancaster’s squad but while Vunipola’s starting spot might have been taken away from him due to his club commitments, former England flanker Moody believes Morgan deserves to keep his starting spot regardless.
“Morgan for all intents and purposes 18 months ago was your starting No.8 and then Vunipola comes in as a young man playing out of his skin,” Moody said.
“With a slow start to the season, Morgan then found himself on the bench and had to play out of his skin to get a look in but he has done exactly that.
“His ball carrying has always been a strong area of his game but now he has added other bits to it – his work-rate, his offloading and his lines of running have really impressed me.
“I think Billy is maybe a more natural game-line breaker but Ben seems to have really developed his game over the last 12 months and he is a much more intelligent rugby player.
“He is also a lot quicker than people give him credit for. He looks quite bulky but he is actually an explosive individual.”
While Vunipola had a positive campaign with Saracens to help argue his case, Morgan is not so lucky with Gloucester struggling to ninth-place finish this Premiership season.
That cost Nigel Davies his job at Kingsholm but Moody is adamant the same fate should not befall Morgan.
“I really think No.8 is where you can see competition for places making a player play better,” Moody added.
“I certainly think it is one of the hardest calls Stuart will have to make, especially because Billy has been injured and because Ben had such a great performance when he had to.
“Maybe Vunipola in his mind is still his starting No.8 because Sarries have been so impressive this season but time will tell and maybe Morgan will get an opportunity to put his hand up again.”
Lewis Moody is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover supports grassroots rugby and provides the opportunity for 7000 youngsters to take part in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup.