England in New Zealand 2014
Launchbury backs England's strength in depth
May 28, 2014
Joe Launchbury is in pole position to start the first Test on June 7 © Getty Images
England second-row Joe Launchbury wants his team to make the most of the opportunity offered by the selection issues surrounding the first Test against the All Blacks.
England will be without a host of their frontline players when they run out against the All Blacks on June 7 but talking to Launchbury on Monday, you sensed there was quiet optimism within the England camp. Such is the convoluted process by which Stuart Lancaster gets his players to New Zealand for the first Test, Launchbury is likely to be one of the more experienced players in the changing room in terms of caps for the Auckland Test.
But it is hard to keep on reminding yourself that Launchbury is just 23. He has experienced a meteoric rise having gone from playing at the Eastern Province - he took the South African route for his rugby education rather than the New Zealand option which benefitted Tom Wood and Martin Johnson - to Wasps and then the England team and now a tour to New Zealand.
"I've learned a lot through my experiences but I've learnt a lot about myself about what I can achieve," Launchbury told ESPN. "These experiences I've had over the past couple of years have accelerated and I'm constantly learning from the coaches and the players.
"I'm really enjoying my rugby and I hope it continues. But I know the way for that to happen is to keep on training hard and maintain the focus. I am really looking forward to getting out to New Zealand I have been fortunate that we have had some big games at Wasps so after the Six Nations there was no let up."
For the next few weeks, Launchbury will be in and around the England camp as they play their three-Test series against the All Blacks. They will be without a those involved in Saturday's Aviva Premiership final for the first Test but Launchbury dismissed the negative side of the situation and hopes his team make the most of the opportunity.
"A lot has been mentioned in the press about the players not available but if you asked the players here what they thought of it, I'm pretty sure they would be keen to kick on and prove a point in the first game. It is what it is. It was done years ago and the cards have been dealt.
"Obviously it's a tough place to go and play rugby but it's key a year out from the World Cup to show we have strength in depth and we're going to be in a good place next year.
"It's a great opportunity for all the guys in that squad to put down a marker and they're all up for the challenge. The guys are training well and it's a great environment to be in. Come a week Saturday we will be ready."
If Launchbury is picked for the first Test on June 7, it will be the fourth time he has faced a Kiwi national side. The first came back in 2011 in the Junior World Championship final in Italy, a match England lost 33-22. Then came the memorable 38-21 win at Twickenham in 2012 but his last outing was back in 2013 when England fell 30-22. He is looking to equal his own personal duel and make it 2-2 if he runs out in Auckland, but he is fully aware of the challenges that await his team.
"We have a huge amount of respect for everything they've achieved and they are rightly at the top of world rugby. At the same time we're confident about the direction we are heading in and it will be a great Test series."
Watch exclusive content from Joe Launchbury and his England team-mates [on tour in New Zealand] with Player Diary from O2 and England Rugby, at o2insideline.com
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.