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Wasps confirm a comeback date for England hopeful Joe Launchbury

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

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Wasps have revealed they expect to have England hopeful Joe Launchbury back in their engine room for their late January Gallagher Premiership clash versus Saracens, ending the 30-year-old’s nine-month absence caused by the complete rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament last April.

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That injury cruelly cost Launchbury his chance to compete for Lions tour selection but he is now poised to make his club return with Wasps the Sunday before England begin their latest Six Nations campaign away to Scotland on February 5.

Capped 69 times by his country, Launchbury hasn’t featured for England since the December 2020 Autumn Nations Cup final win over France at Twickenham as a stress fracture to the fibula ruled him out of the 2021 Six Nations just days after he had been chosen by Eddie Jones in the squad for the tournament.  

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Launchbury remains highly coveted by England, whose scrum coach Matt Proudfoot visited Wasps on Wednesday on the same day that the second row was involved in units practice, and the prognosis is that he should be clear for a January 30 return to action with his club despite a recent setback.  

“He was involved in units Wednesday and with Joe, we are looking at the back end of this month with Saracens,” explained Wasps boss Lee Blackett. “We were hoping for a fraction sooner but he just had a slight thigh issue on his way back. Nothing to do with the knee but yeah, we expect him back for that Saracens game.

“We’re really pleased we have got the majority coming back, 18 players due back this month which is going to be massive. It’s nearly half your squad. It is going to be great for competition, great for improving the squad. Joe, Dan Robson and Malakai Fekitoa are three returning for that fixture at the end of this month which is massive.”

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How does Blackett rate the chances of a Six Nations call-up for Launchbury once he makes his club level comeback? “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.”

Asked about the dialogue between Wasps and England boss Jones, Blackett added: “Quite often with these things, it’s more the coaches we speak to and I know they have got good relationships in here. They are speaking a lot with Richard Blaze. Richard Cockerill worked with him before so they have a good relationship and have conversations. Matt Proudfoot was in on Wednesday and I spoke with him. He was asking questions about Joe, so there is just that constant dialogue.”

While the outlook sounds promising for Launchbury following his lengthy lay-off, Wasps were hesitant about putting a date on when Jack Willis should be back in action following his devastating knee injury when playing for England versus Italy last February in the Six Nations.

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“Jack is still going to be a bit of time away. We have not set a date for him. That doesn’t mean it is going to be months and months away. That is probably not the case but it is something at the moment we are not putting a date on.”

Wasps usually earn a decent number of spots in the England squads under Jones but they had no one involved in the November wins over Tonga, Australia and South Africa. “If you look at the previous year, we had five players in the EPS squad and all five of those were injured so as much as it looked like we had zero, the majority of the guys that would have been pushing for England weren’t available and hence that is why they weren’t playing in it,” reasoned Blackett. 

“Look, we want people in. We have got a crop of good, young England players coming through and I’d like to think in the next few years there will be guys who will hopefully be playing regularly for them.”

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