England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Praise won't faze Palmer
February 10, 2011
Tom Palmer is at home at the heart of the England pack © Work Rest and Play Pictures
A season and a half is a long time at the sharp end of European rugby, just ask England lock Tom Palmer.
Hailed this week as 'near enough the complete forward for the modern game' by England assistant coach John Wells, the 31-year-old has blossomed since his move to Stade Francais from Wasps in 2009, when he was able to slip under the radar thanks to the furore created by James Haskell and Riki Flutey's decision to up sticks at the same time.
Palmer's international career threatened to fizzle out amid talk of player release clauses and the installation of Saracens lock Steve Borthwick as England skipper but with his tight game improving week on week in the unforgiving surroundings of the Top 14 and his lineout work typically strong, he wasn't out of the loop for long.
Having started every England Test since last season's successful tour to Australia he has become a reliable presence in a young squad and turned in another standout display in last Friday's opening Six Nations win over Wales in Cardiff.
"It's obviously very nice to get nice things said about you, I've been feeling quite secure in my role after playing all the games in the autumn series," Palmer said as he returned to Barnet RFC, his boyhood club, to support the RBS RugbyForce grassroots rugby programme. "I'm happy with how things are at the moment.
"I think we've got some belief as a group now and there's confidence among the team. There's a good feeling among the squad and I think a lot of that comes from having a settled side. We've had pretty much the same guys involved for a year or so now and things are looking up in that respect."
England looked comfortable against a fired-up Wales last weekend, where Palmer was paired with the more rugged Louis Deacon following an injury to Courtney Lawes. He seemed unfazed by the new combination and was visible throughout, with one charge setting up his team's second try.
There is a lack of fuss about his game, a fact highlighted by the ease with which he adapted to the new face in the No.4 jersey. "I just concentrate on the thing that I've got to do, I don't worry about what my second-row partner is doing. I just play my game," he said.
England will face a major challenge this weekend in the form of a muscular Italian pack, who will be hoping to take their fired-up brand of forwards play on the road after running roughshod over Ireland in Rome in round one. The Azzurri were minutes away from a first Six Nations win over Ireland prior to Ronan O'Gara's late drop-goal and England will be on guard in the early stages.
"We've been through it and been reviewing them, looking at their strengths and weaknesses and where we can hopefully exploit them," Palmer said. "They were very unlucky not to get the win really, it was just a slight lack of experience there at the end.
"All they had to do was take the kick-off and keep hold of the ball and they would have won the game, that cost them dearly. They are a very good side and it will be a tough match, we're under no illusions as to what to expect. You've got to be up for it and you've got to be mentally prepared for it. You've got to try and get on top right from the off and not let them take any confidence out of the early exchanges."
Palmer has been one of the big success stories of the recent English migration but can't pinpoint the moment in which his stock rose to its current high share price.
"I think rugby has changed and I've changed to suit the way rugby is," he said. "The tight game is better over there but I'm not sure why I'm suddenly getting the recognition. It's quite refreshing to go and play in a new competition where you're not playing the same teams you've been playing for the last 10 years. To actually go out and play teams you haven't played before at grounds you haven't been to before, that's refreshing."
Tom Palmer was speaking at an England team appearance as part of the community rugby programme RBS RugbyForce, improving club facilities across the nation. To register your rugby club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend on 11 & 12 June, click here.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.