London Irish lock Nick Kennedy has finally been rewarded for years of lineout dominance in the Guinness Premiership with a debut England cap.
The 27-year-old was yesterday named as one of four uncapped players in the England team to face the physical Pacific Islanders at Twickenham on Sunday.
Kennedy was the leading lineout receiver in the Guinness Premiership last season and the competition’s top lineout poacher the year before.
He was selected for England’s summer tour to New Zealand but it was a frustrating experience as he failed to contribute any more than holding tackle bags for three weeks.
Kennedy has worked to bulk up his 6ft 8in frame, started the season in prime form and England boss Martin Johnson confirmed yesterday his time has come to make an impact on the Test arena.
“The summer tour was my first time with the England senior squad. I was happy to be there and show the coaches what I could do in training, although they didn’t give me the opportunity to show it on the park. I was disappointed not to get a cap,” said Kennedy.
“Things have been going well at London Irish and I have been enjoying the faster pace this season.”
The England side taking the field on Saturday boasts the two leading lineout exponents in the Guinness Premiership so far this season in Kennedy (own throws) and Leicester flanker Tom Croft (interceptions).
The new attacking gameplan designed by Brian Smith - Kennedy’s former boss at London Irish - is based around England working quick and quality ball from the set piece.
“That is something we have been looking at in training. We want to give our exciting backs some good quality ball,” said Kennedy.
“I think we have some great lineout players like Tom Croft and Steve Borthwick and Nick Easter, they are all great in the air and can read it very well.
“Brian will bring a fresh approach. He will encourage the guys to go out and show what they can do, to have a go when it is on and not play conservatively.”
One of those exciting new additions is Kennedy’s London Irish team-mate Delon Armitage, who will make his England debut at full-back after being fast-tracked into the team over the last 10 days.
London Irish boss Toby Booth, who built the Exiles into a dominant lineout force, said: “We’re delighted that Delon and Nick will make their international debuts on Saturday.
“None of us at London Irish are surprised at their selection. Delon is a fierce competitor who has been among the most consistent players at the club for three seasons.
“He has also worked hard at improving his skills and fitness to an international level.
“Nick is one of the finest lineout specialists in the country. He is an integral member of the most consistent second row combination in the Guinness Premiership and is also a powerful scrummager who is hard to stop with ball in hand.”