England
Launchbury targets late run at World Cup squad
Tom Hamilton
March 24, 2015
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Joe Launchbury is hoping to make his long-awaited comeback from injury towards the end of April and hopes a storming end to the season will be enough to force his way into England's World Cup plans.

It has been a frustrating season for Launchbury from a rugby perspective but while his professional career has been recently dominated by rehabilitation, his off-field life has been manic so there have seldom been opportunities for the Wasps forward to dwell on his injury misfortune.

The October 26 loss at Harlequins was the last time he hit a tackle in anger or jumped for a lineout. For someone who played 35 or so matches in the 2013-14 campaign, the change in routine has been a shock to the system. But his first born - daughter Blythe - arrived in December and he is taking his sports science finals in May. If ever there was a time to be injured, as his team-mates have frequently reminded him in jest, he did not pick a bad time.

"If ever there's been a silver lining to a nasty injury, that's been it," Launchbury tells ESPN. "I still see rugby as a privilege. When you're out injured, it's so frustrating but also you know you have people to provide for, so you are so keen to get back out there. I'm a big believer in keeping rugby as much about rugby as possible. I've loved the opportunities I've had."

 
"Injuries are part of sport but they're never nice to take. I've missed a lot of rugby, I've missed some big games."
 

Even that small mercy of having time to focus on off-field matters is hard to recognise when you see others in the England jersey you have had as your own. When Mike Brown missed the Ireland game after his knock to the head, he dealt with the frustration by pummelling his sofa. Launchbury is cut from a slightly different cloth and instead sits mute, stewing. "The silent assassin" was Phil Vickery's description of Launchbury and while you can hardly imagine the quietly-spoken lock throwing the proverbial toys out of the pram over his injury, it was a bitter pill to take.

The injury, similar to Dave Wilson's, came through repeated wear and tear. "There was no one-off incident," Launchbury said. "I slipped my disc originally two years ago but there wasn't a big enough [reason] to stop playing. I played on comfortably and then had another small episode in pre-season but again played on. It wasn't until a few games into the season I started to lose a bit of strength in my arm.

"It's been the most frustrating injury I've had. You're effectively waiting for the nerve to switch itself back on again. I've lost quite a bit of strength in my arm but I've been working hard in the gym, I've been trying to tease it along but nerves do their own thing. I've been fortunate to have some good physios around me who have taken care of me. They've given me some good guidance and it's in the crunch time of the injury now, I'm getting back to training and I've been running for a few weeks and I'm starting to feel really good."

When Stuart Lancaster was talking of the importance of the time England have as a group pre-World Cup, he mentioned the benefits of running the rule over those who have missed either or both of the Six Nations and November Tests through injury. Launchbury was name-checked alongside Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell and Ben Morgan. It has not been a case of out of sight, out of mind for Launchbury. He has been in and around the training camp, listening in on team meetings, keeping up to date with lineout calls and doing part of his rehabilitation at Pennyhill Park. He is very much on the England radar but missing the big matches has been difficult.

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"The Rugby World Cup has kept me going. I should have a chance to work my way into the training squad and there I'll have a chance to put a marker down in the camp. Hopefully my neck will be perfect so I'll be able to train hard and force my way in."

Before thoughts of the World Cup, Launchbury's eyes are on making his maiden appearance at the Ricoh for Wasps. He has not yet experienced their new home, but it is something he is looking forward to.

"The reception's been fantastic up there. It's everything we've ever really wanted. Since I've been at the club they've been talking about the stadium and the new owners have come in and made it happen. It's a statement of where we're going as a club. It's been amazing for us, where we've come from in such a short space of time."

Launchbury's feet have barely touched the ground since he went to South Africa on an eight-week training camp at the Eastern Province alongside ex-Wasps prop Bob Baker. He learnt the hard graft of the second row there - he went straight from the coach to live mauls - and soon signed his first professional contract at Wasps. Then came the relegation scrap in 2012 - he refers to it as "a slightly weird career highlight" as it helped him be the man and player he is today. And then came international recognition, Wasps duties and the spotlight.

A time away from it all, though it is a difficult notion to acknowledge when in the midst of injury frustration, may prove to be the best thing for Launchbury and England.

"Injuries are part of sport but they're never nice to take. I've missed a lot of rugby, I've missed some big games. I was ruled out just before the November series and I was gutted to miss that. To miss the whole of the Six Nations campaign also… I've not played in the new Ricoh yet so I'm itching to get back out there." A rested 'silent assassin' will be a welcome boost for Wasps and England.

Joe Launchbury was speaking at Churcher's College, 2015 NatWest Schools Vase Finalists, who will battle it out for the prestigious trophy at the Home of England Rugby, Twickenham Stadium, on Wednesday March 25. Watch the action live at http://englandrugby.com/natwestschoolscup

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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