FORGOTTEN England and Wasps second row Joe Launchbury admits he is desperate to issue a reminder of his talents after an injury nightmare which threatened to leave his World Cup aspirations in tatters.
The 24-year-old is set for a place on the Wasps’ bench for their crunch clash against play-off rivals Leicester tomorrow, in front of a sell-out 32,000 Ricoh Arena crowd, after more than six months on the sidelines following neck surgery.
Launchbury aims to use the remainder of the domestic season to press his claims for an international recall ahead of England’s World Cup summer training camps in Surrey and Denver, which begin on 22 June.
“I want to remind people I can still play rugby,” Launchbury told City A.M.
“There will be pressure on me to play well but I just want to play the game I love again, to string some matches together and show what I can do. I’m itching to come back. I can’t wait.
“Six months is a long time and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been frustrating. I certainly don’t need reminding how much I’ve missed. It’s been tough to take.
“I missed out on the move to the Ricoh Arena with Wasps and haven’t even played there yet. Running out there tomorrow will be a nice finish to the injury.”
Launchbury has won 22 England caps since his international debut against Fiji at Twickenham in November 2012 and played 19 successive Tests before injury struck, hardly ideal preparation ahead of this autumn’s home World Cup.
“That’s been a huge carrot. I believe there is something wrong if you can’t get up in the morning and work hard on your rehab when you have got that at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
“I’ve been targeting it the whole way through. Hopefully I can help Wasps reach the play-offs and extend the season by a few games, and then have a really long summer and build up to a World Cup that I can get my teeth into.”
Wasps lie sixth in the Premiership, three points behind fourth-placed Leicester, who occupy the final play-off spot, with just two games of the regular season to play. Their final match of the campaign is at London Irish.
Dai Young’s side have recorded five victories from their six top-flight matches at the Ricoh Arena, and success against Leicester will maintain the club’s hopes of ending a seven-year trophy drought, before England’s World Cup bid assumes centre stage.
Launchbury’s first flavour of senior international rugby came in early 2012 when he was called-up to the England fold ahead of the Six Nations by newly-installed head coach Stuart Lancaster, but did not feature.
He retains a huge debt of gratitude to Lancaster for that vote of confidence and admits being plunged into frontline action for Wasps during their injury-plagued 2011/12 campaign, aged 20, proved invaluable.
“Stuart brought me in when nobody was touting me to play for England and I try to repay his faith every time I take the pitch in a white shirt,” said Launchbury, who recalls Wasps being moments from bankruptcy the following season, in December 2012.
“That season of struggle at Wasps was brilliant for me as it gave me and guys like Elliot Daly and Christian Wade exposure. Some games were tough, some were very tough, but it taught me to keep fighting. It made me the player I am today.
“The club in general couldn’t be more different now than a couple of years ago when there was 20 pence left in the bank. I’m just so desperate to get back out there now.”
SINCE HE LAST PLAYED...
Wasps sent to Coventry
■ Club’s October purchase of Ricoh Arena saw them move to Midlands as part of a financial transformation
Harry Kane’s whirlwind success
■ Tottenham starlet Kane was yet to score in the Premier League this term. He now has 20 – and two England caps
Charlie Hebdo attacks stun world
■ Gunmen kill 11 staff at Paris satirical magazine in January in retaliation for publishing cartoons mocking Islam and the Prophet Muhammad
One Direction reduced to four
■ Zayn Malik quits world-conquering boyband in March, saying he would rather be “a normal 22-year-old”