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'Joe's never done it before': Launchbury's new England experience

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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This week’s inclusion of Joe Launchbury in the England training squad in London at the expense of Nick Isiekwe – a starter versus Scotland and Italy – has been a major Guinness Six Nations talking point. Isiekwe didn’t look out of place on his return to the Test arena following a four-year gap in between caps since 2018, but it is not as if Launchbury was suddenly parachuted back into the mix from nowhere. 

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Just last week, the Wasps lock endured his own share of England rejection. He had been called into the start-of-the-week training squad by Eddie Jones, who sung the player’s praises at a media briefing that same day.  

“Joe is a good Test lock. He is an outstanding mauler, he is a guy that is tough around the one-pass play around the ruck and he brings a lot of experience. At the moment experience is not something we have got a lot of,” explained the head coach.

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Just 30 hours later, though, came the news that Launchbury was one of the players cut when England reduced their squad from 36 to 27 ahead of their round two match in Italy, leaving the forward who has 69 Test caps heading back to Coventry to instead suddenly prepare at short notice for Wasps’ Gallagher Premiership game at home to Bath. 

First capped in 2012, getting sent home in the midweek of a Test match was something Launchbury had never previously had to do but Wasps boss Lee Blackett was impressed by how his talisman quickly overcame his England rejection and mucked in for his club to ensure they continued to climb the top-flight table.   

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“Joe had never done it before,” said Blackett about getting Launchbury sent back to Wasps in the midweek of an England match, a rejection he shared with the uncapped Alfie Barbeary. “That was the first time that Joe Launchbury has ever done that, gone away and come back so I was really pleased with both of them. 

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“I have been really pleased, great leadership, just the confidence he gives to everyone around him,” he continued with regard to the value of Launchbury to Wasps. “From a selfish perspective you are always going to want him at Wasps but his time has come now, he is ready to go and play for his country again. 

“We are really pleased with what he has brought. The intensity he brings around the place and just the performances. The performances have got better and better as well.”

Launchbury’s appearance against Bath was his third in recent weeks since his recovery from last April’s complete rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament. That injury came not long after a stress fracture to the fibula had ruled him out of the 2021 Six Nations just days after he had been chosen by Jones in the England squad for the tournament. 

These lengthy absences mean that Launchbury is now training with England ahead of their round three match at home to Wales on February 27 having not played a Test match since December 2020 when he was involved in the extra-time Autumn Nations Cup win over France at Twickenham.     

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Launchbury’s England return is no surprise to Blackett, who predicted last month in advance of his lock’s comeback appearance against Saracens: “You’d like to think he would have a game or two here and then try and fight his way back in but you know where Joe is held with the international team. They think a lot about him and still do. 

“They still ask questions all the time, ‘How is he going?’ He is in their mind. He is a quality player, he will come back and hopefully comes back better. You do find these players come back better, more knowledgeable about the game. We are looking to have his leadership and that type of player back on the field and I am sure England feel exactly the same.”

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