Courtney Lawes insists he is in the best shape of his career despite England allowing him to feast on McDonald’s and club sandwiches.
In the Eddie Jones era, Lawes has developed from a player who was in danger of failing to realise his potential into a versatile back five forward whose form demands selection.
When the the 28-year-old lock starts England’s NatWest Six Nations opener against Italy on Sunday, he will know he can complete 80 minutes at full throttle having benefited from Jones’ relentless drive to improve fitness levels.
Head coach Jones has compared Lawes’ frame to that of a basketball player rather than a second row and Lawes has been indulging to drive up his weight.
“We’ve had a delivery service coming in from McDonald’s every day for him. He likes a club sandwich,” Jones said.
“You can tell what room Courtney is in because there is always a room service tray outside it.”
When Jones first sat down with Lawes upon taking over in 2015 he was confronted by a player whose attitude was “reasonably indifferent”, but outlining the two diverging paths ahead produced a transformation.
“I’ve dug in and I’ve given everything I can for these last couple years,” Lawes said.
“It only makes me hungrier to go on and see how far I can push myself and how good a player I can become.
“Luckily I’ve been able to stay fit and when Eddie took charge he challenged me to become a better player. I took on the challenge and I’m on my way.
“Before I was more unaware rather than coasting. Sometimes you need a kick up the bum to make you realise you’re wasting your potential in certain ways.
“It’s not like I didn’t ever want to become… but I didn’t necessarily know what you’ve got to put in to get there.
“I’m competitive, I want to be in the team, and Eddie made it clear that if I don’t improve I won’t be. So I had to go and get better.
“Now I’m by far the fittest I’ve ever been as a player, no matter what weight I’ve been. I can definitely run further and get up quicker.
“Eddie has made a massive improvement to us all in terms of our fitness and being able to carry on in the most difficult situations.
“A lot of it is mental. Physically you need to be able to do it but mentally you need to be able to get yourself up every time no matter how hard it is.
“It gives you great confidence knowing that you don’t have to pace yourself. You can go flat out from word go and come the last 20 you’ll still have a lot left in the tank to give.”
Meanwhile, front row debutant Alec Hepburn has been challenged to rip up the established order at loosehead prop.
Hepburn is expected to win his first cap as a replacement in the Stadio Olimpico showdown in support of Mako Vunipola after injury and suspension robbed Jones of a host of options in the position.
Joe Marler, Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and Beno Obano are all unavailable, forcing Jones to turn to his sixth-choice in Hepburn.
The 25-year-old front row has been in outstanding form for Exeter and scrum coach Neal Hatley predicts he will seize his chance in Rome.
“Alec has been part of a very good Exeter pack,” Hatley said.
“He’s had some really good games and come out on top in a lot of those, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for him.”