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'Complete' lock Palmer key to new England

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Bryn Palmer | 20:19 UK time, Thursday, 10 February 2011

"There are two sides to Tom Palmer," begins James Haskell, with the mischievous air of someone who is about to reveal something he knows a team-mate will not thank him for.

"Tom has earned the nickname of 'Dexter' from the TV show," said the England flanker. "A lot of people are slightly unnerved by him. I think sometimes the silence and the quiet staring eyes can maybe be a bit intimidating."

Being compared to an anti-hero may not be what the England lock had in mind when discussing his own contribution to their opening Six Nations Championship win over Wales in Cardiff.

While Toby Flood collected the official man-of-the-match award and two-try scorer Chris Ashton garnered most of the headlines, Palmer's influence was arguably as great, if not greater.

Tom Palmer in action for England against Wales

Palmer took eight of 11 line-out catches against Wales - photo: Getty

Indeed, earlier this week England's notoriously hard-to-please forwards coach John Wells was heard describing the 31-year-old as "near enough the complete forward for the modern age".

"It is not often 'Wellsy' is complimentary towards players," says Palmer. "To be honest he often finds a few negatives that you need to work harder on."

The way the lock sees it though, this side don't need their coaches to tell them if they are going wrong. After a match where little appeared to for him personally, the floppy-fringed forward - he had a 'little trim' on his day off this week, but no-one noticed - remained underwhelmed.

"I watched the game back and I felt I played OK," Palmer said. "I am quite harsh on myself generally. It's obviously very nice to have these things written about me and have people appreciate what I am doing. But to me it doesn't feel like I am doing anything much different to what I have always done."

If he is an unlikely looking rugby hero, his role in the revival of England's fortunes over the past nine months has gone largely unheralded in the clamour over an exciting clutch of talented young thrusters.

But then you remember his deft offload to send Ashton on his way to his first Test try in the win over Australia in Sydney last June, and his turnover near the England posts which set in train the move that led to Ashton's memorable 90m run to glory against the same opponents at Twickenham in November.

"Tom is a model professional, extremely hard-working, and a great player, a real team man," adds Haskell, as he reflects on 'the other side' of his Stade Francais team-mate, before a few more tit-bits about England's new go-to man at the line-out emerge.

"His wife [Helen] is an amazing cook. She keeps me stocked up with brownies and cup cakes. For a while she had her own little sandwich business at Stade as Ollie Phillips (another of the English contingent at the cosmopolitan Parisian outfit) and I would pay Tom five euros a day to get a packed lunch. I'm sure the overheads were massive...Tom must have been raking it in."

If most England fans were unaware of Palmer's contribution to haute cuisine, his performance in Cardiff belatedly brought his talents to a wider audience.

It is easy to forget now that going into the Welsh encounter, England's line-out - denuded of Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes, and with Dylan Hartley's throwing put under the microscope by Warren Gatland - was considered a potential area of weakness.

In the event, England won 11 out of 12 on their own throw, the one that went astray occurring in the final minute when the match was won.

Palmer took eight of those 11 catches, the majority slap-bang in the middle of the line-out. Two throws went to Louis Deacon at the front, one to Tom Wood at the tail. In the absence of Croft, their main weapon previously, England kept things simple and were rewarded for their efficiency.

Palmer tackles Dan Lydiate

Palmer's thundering tackling against Wales caught the eye - photo: Reuters

"To be honest the Welsh made it quite easy for us by not marking me very hard," Palmer says. "That is why there was lots of ball thrown to me. Louis [Deacon] did a very good job calling the line-outs and saw where the space was. We just took the easy balls that were available to us."

Palmer shared the role of line-out caller with Croft during the summer tour of Australia and the autumn series, and Deacon's return to the side has given England another experienced hand in the aerial exchanges.

"You need people who are constantly feeding information back to the decision-makers," Palmer notes. "I am certainly one of the most experienced players in terms of years and I am fairly vocal. You have to be talking all the time at this level."

Palmer, who turns 32 a week after the end of the Championship, was not merely a rock-solid source of line-out possession.

His rampaging run into the heart of the Welsh defence in the build-up to Ashton's second try was one eye-catching moment. Another was the thundering hit that stopped Wales flanker Dan Lydiate dead in his tracks moments after the hosts had scored their solitary try to get the score back to 16-23.

His last major contribution as the game entered the final five minutes was to wrap up Lee Byrne in an enveloping tackle that resulted in the Wales full-back being penalised for holding on, and Jonny Wilkinson landing the match-clinching kick.

That was Palmer's 14th tackle of the game (Wood and Shontayne Hape topped the charts with 24 each apparently), but below his average of around 18 in the autumn Tests. "And in the summer in Australia I did about 22 in one game - that was my best," he adds, helpfully.

If his was an unusual route into the England team - from mini-rugby in Barnet, he spent part of his childhood in Kenya, represented New Zealand Schools after attending Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin, and played for Scotland's Under-19s and U21s after a spell at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh - the Haringay-born forward's Test career stalled on the start line.

After making his debut against the United States 10 years ago as a 22-year-old while studying physics at Leeds University and turning out for the then-Tykes in National League One, he then disappeared off the radar for five years, only re-emerging during the final days of Andy Robinson's regime in November 2006.

His only previous outing against the Azzurri followed in the 2007 Six Nations, and after missing the last World Cup he was involved in Johnson's first games in charge in November 2008, only to miss the 2009 Six Nations through injury.

But since coming off the bench early in Paris at the end of last year's Six Nations, he has now started seven Tests in a row, by far his most productive run in the side.

"Compared to a lot of people my career is really kicking off late," he acknowledges. "Obviously I would have preferred for it to have happened when I was 25 or 26 but that is just the way things are." Injuries at key moments didn't help. "And England had a lot of very good second rows when I was a youngster," he points out. "That made it difficult as well."

One of them - Martin Johnson - and his coaches have been happy to tap into Palmer's inside knowledge of Italy's inspirational captain Sergio Parisse, another of his Stade Francais team-mates, this week in the build-up to Saturday's little set-to.

Palmer is reluctant to go into specifics, other than what is already widely known. "He is a good ball-carrier, a good defender, and a very skilful player. We will have to mark him hard."

Nick Mallett and his Azzurri coaches may be having similar conversations about Palmer.

England's silent assassin can sense his next victims.


  • Comment number 1.

    He was my MotM. Had a superb game.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I could not understand, at the time, how Tom Palmer was not made MOTM. He had an absolutely superb match. He didnt stop working, his line out catching was class and he kept getting over the gainline and putting the Welsh defence on the back foot. If he continues this form then I can easily see him being a star for England this 6N.

  • Comment number 4.

    Palmer was class against Wales, physical, dynamic, solid. It was one of the best games iv seen Flood have too. Should be a good test against the Italians for Cole, but i think he can hold his own.

    Wales are struggling though, i think Scotland will turn them over, in fairness there is not all that much to choose between Scotland Wales and Italy. I also think if Ireland where to lose O'driscoll, O'Connell and a couple of others which is likely to happen in the next year or so, then they would be grouped with them 3 teams mentioned above.

    In terms of quality, France could field 2-3 teams in this years tournament and neither would finish in the bottom 3.

    I hope England win it, and Scotland and Italy get a couple of wins each.

    Finally, if i was Dylon Hartley, i wouldnt have been able to resist asking Gatland did his words taste nice last saturday?? As he was clearly made to eat them. maybe next time he sould concentrate on his own players as wales to me look like a team inept of ideas.

  • Comment number 5.

    Tom Palmer is a shining example of why the RFU are being a little blinkered by saying that going forward, they do not want to consider players who play in France. Admittedly we don't want to see a mass exodus of talent but moving to Stade has undoubtedly reinvigorated Palmer and turned him from a solid league performer and into a top class international. There are several other cases of the move turning around players carreers; Stephen Jones and JW to name but a couple.

    Maybe a compromise needs to be found........

  • Comment number 6.

    Agree with 1 & 3. He was dominant and giveing MotM to Flood was just lazy.

    If fit, the partnership of Palmer and Laws at 4 & 5 is as good as any in the world. Almost as good as the glory days of Jonno and Kay.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have to say I had a great deal of time for Palmer's performance on Friday night although I do not think he was the best second row on offer in the six nations fixtures last weekend - that prize has to go for Scotland's talented lock Richie Gray. An absolute man mountain who made so many try saving tackles I almost lost count. Imagine a Lions team with those two bad boys anchoring the scrum... Brilliant!

  • Comment number 9.

    When Wasps signed Palmer in 2006 I wasn't sure he was what we really needed at the time. I was wrong big time. He was brilliant in partnership with Simon Shaw as we went on to win the Heineken cup in 2007 and the premiership in 2008. His final season with us wasn't his best (although the same could be said for others in the squad that season). But his move to France has rejuvenated his career and it has definitely benefited both him and England.

    Its a shame he didn't get man of the match on Friday. But I'm sure Johnno and others have told him how important he is to the team.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for all your comments, keep em coming.

    Agree with 1, 3 and 9 - Palmer should have been man-of-the-match, even if Flood did play very well. But don't suppose it matters too much to them.

    Re no 5) trueblue - Palmer admitted last week he may have a tricky decision to make next year when his Stade contract comes to an end. Suspect there will be a few Premiership clubs happy to bring him back to England, though he seems pretty happy living out in Vaucresson, a plush commune in the western suburbs of Paris. Assuming he stays in the side through the World Cup later this year, it may depend on how flexible the RFU are with their policy. Suspect they might make the odd exception for those who are already out in France - the main aim was to stop the young talent going.

    Palmer would be 36 by the time the 2015 World Cup comes round, but as it's all happened for him relatively late in his career, he might figure he can keep going until then. He only has to look at Simon Shaw - 35 on the last Lions tour, will be 38 by the time the World Cup starts later this year, but still in the England squad.

    Re: no 7 - michelle - think you may be on the wrong blog?!

  • Comment number 11.

    He played well, but before getting too excited it's worth remembering the disintegration of the English lineout against SA in the Autumn.

  • Comment number 12.

    Can't still work out why it took him so long to 'come of age'. We (England) have been looking for performances like this for a long time - dare I mention that MJ started with Steve Borthwick for a considerable amount of time. Can imagine that Palmer and Lawes will have some competition from Attwood come 2012.

    Still a very talented player, coming of age, albeit slightly later than may expected.

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't know why but he reminds me of Richard Hill (differrent position I know) in the way he plays, neat tidy in the right place at the right time. Shame Laws is injured and remember SA are still a step up in lineout work.

  • Comment number 14.

    Fantastic player.

    The big question is whether is how MJ will cope with the reintroduction of Attwood when he his ban is elapsed.

    A second row of Lawes and Attwood would combine 2 6'7, 18+ stone hard cases and would take physical to a new level!

    perhaps Attwood will go in the bench?

  • Comment number 15.

    "I have to say I had a great deal of time for Palmer's performance on Friday night although I do not think he was the best second row on offer in the six nations fixtures last weekend - that prize has to go for Scotland's talented lock Richie Gray. An absolute man mountain who made so many try saving tackles I almost lost count."
    agree entirely with this! richie gray was imense.
    "Imagine a Lions team with those two bad boys anchoring the scrum"
    maybe, although my thoughts on saturday were all about a lions 2nd row of gray and lawes! and a back row of wood, barclay and heaslip... oh no, its too early to be thinking lions!
    anyway, palmer was good as was wood. we've got some real competition for places developing which is the key thing in pushing overall performance forward.

  • Comment number 16.

    Re: 12) edgroves and 14) jimmymc1 - Attwood's ban expires on 21 Feb so in theory he could yet play a part in this Six Nations. He won't have played for nine weeks so I think you can write him off for the France game on 26th but Gloucester have Premiership games on 26 Feb and 5 Mar so if he gets two games under his belt, he could be in the mix for the final two games against Scotland and Ireland. I think Attwood will be in competition with Lawes (when he's fit), Deacon and Shaw (if he's still going) for that front-jumping, enforcer role, though he may struggle to make the World Cup squad. Palmer is really the only pure, middle-jumping option in the squad at the moment. Skivington is probably next in if anything happens to Tom.

    Re: 13) simonw17 - the player who has been most compared with Richard Hill since the Wales game is Tom Wood. A young man with a very bright future. Like Hill, could well be equally effective on both flanks.

    Re: 15) RainyDayDreamAway - tell you what, let's wait until the end of the Six Nations and we'll have a proper debate on how the Lions might line up in Oz, two years out!

  • Comment number 17.

    How come England can pick players based in clubs in other countries? New Zealand and Australia refuse point blank to do this. Surely there are plenty of quality England-based players to choose from, especially given the enormous size of the English union?

  • Comment number 18.

    average player, average team. Scraped past a poor Welsh pack, would be surprised if he shines against either the French or Irish. Naturally would be put in his place against the allblacks on home soil.

  • Comment number 19.

    buck rogers summed him up perfectly ,, very average , played against a poor welsh offering up front and well, the italian lineout was worse than the local town team. he is shouting his mouth off now lets see what hes saying after he gets buried by Paul O Connell

  • Comment number 20.

    I am a fan of Palmer - but the complete forward?

    Not so sure about that. I would still love to see more of him in the loose - and when you think our forwards' try conversion rate when 5m from the opposition line is so weak - there must be scope for improvement.

    I still don't think we have much coordination in the forwards around the park - too often they are still picking and driving for no logical reason, and when they are first receiver, they are generally stationary.

    This is far from a complete forward, and far from a complete England set of forwards - Wells still needs to up his game. Has done for a few years!

  • Comment number 21.

    17. At 09:18am on 12 Feb 2011, mikabendigo wrote:

    How come England can pick players based in clubs in other countries? New Zealand and Australia refuse point blank to do this. Surely there are plenty of quality England-based players to choose from, especially given the enormous size of the English union?
    Are you trying to say we get an unfair advantage? If so that's a new low for rivals. It's the choice of the country as to which players they pick, not some sort of rule that we have an exception to.

    Much like Ireland, a lot of countries try to keep their players internal, as those players are then used to playing with each other come the internations. So in fact its advantage for them to do so.

    We were following that line with trying to stop Wilkinson going to France. I guess it stopped, and it is judged that they are capable of gelling as a team.

  • Comment number 22.

    if england are the big boys tell me why they pick a yankee prop a south african prop and an ex kiwi rugby league player in the centre.. can palmer please just shut up, people hate england becase of his sort of comment , they win a few games and all of a sudden it all over the press they will win the worl cup///pllleeeeeaaassseeeee

  • Comment number 23.


    Would you like to show us just where it is "all over the press they will win the world cup"?

    Again people like you let the grey mist of complex cover your eyes before putting the brain into gear.

    You truly are a silly person making stupid comments. No doubt not long left school and struggling to make use of a state certificate to get a job.

    Would you also like to mention which is the wonderful side you call yours that is going to do so much?

    Silly post. Silly person!


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