Joe Launchbury has exceeded his own expectations during a remarkable season and is determined to sign off on a victorious note as England hunt a 2-0 Test series win against Argentina.
This time last year, he was training on his own at Wasps, recovering from the knee injury which had forced him home just days into England’s tour of South Africa.
Fast forward 12 months and the 22-year-old lock is England’s player of the year, the owner of a Land Rover he cannot even drive yet and on the brink of winning his 11th Test cap in Buenos Aires.
What beckons after that is a month off, a spot of village cricket and some driving lessons, but Launchbury warned the Pumas, beaten 32-3 in Salta last weekend, that neither he nor England are in holiday mode yet.
“People may look at it and think we are winding down but we are not at all,” he said. “It is a massive challenge for us and we want to be the first England team to come out here and win a Test series with a clean sweep. We don’t want to go off on our holidays now on a sour note.
“They are a very good forward pack and they have a lot to offer in that area, with their set piece and their physicality. They started to show, in the second half last week, what they can do. We understand that completely and we are going to have to raise our game a couple of levels again in order to get the result we want.”
Launchbury has been raising his game week on week since he burst on to the international scene in the autumn, with his debut off the bench against Fiji. By the time England ended that campaign with a record victory over New Zealand, Launchbury had established himself in the second row and was voted player of the series.
He was named England’s player of the year by his colleagues in May and collected a gleaming new motor after being named the Aviva Premiership’s Young Player of the Year. Even the biggest setback of all, England’s 30-3 defeat to Wales, is beginning to feel like a positive experience.
“I have had a fantastic year playing for England,” Launchbury said. “If I am being brutally honest it is one that I did not expect. You set your own individual goals as an athlete and try hard to make them achievable and try to fulfil them.
“I will be honest and say that I have exceeded mine. I have enjoyed this year massively. I have loved every opportunity and hopefully I have made the most of them.
“The last three weeks out here have been fantastic, getting away with your country and touring in a new environment with a different set of lads. That’s hopefully brought me on as a player as well.”
England were going for the Grand Slam in Cardiff but they were blown away by a Welsh side inspired by a cauldron of noise and patriotism. “It was a brutal game and completely not what we expected at all,” Launchbury said.
“On the day, and in the weeks after, it was very hard dealing with what happened. Now we have sat back, I think it is going to help us grow massively as individuals.
“I don’t think I quite expected what was going to happen over there. They do love their rugby and the atmosphere was second to none. It is something that will live with me for a long time. Sometimes you need these setbacks in order to push forward.
“We know when we go back to Wales, or a hostile environment, we are going to be ready for it.”
England will feature two changes for today’s second Test against a depleted Argentina side. The London Irish winger Marland Yarde will make his debut and Kyle Eastmond will take over at inside centre from Billy Twelvetrees after his call-up to the Lions squad in Australia.