England’s grand plan of building a World Cup-winning pack around the outstanding young Wasps forward Joe Launchbury has not been going all that smoothly: the 23-year-old lock, who combines a cutting-edge skill set with a blunt-instrument 19st frame, missed last autumn’s international series at Twickenham because of a neck injury and will play no part in the forthcoming Six Nations either. He is, however, on track for the global gathering in September.
Launchbury was hard at work in the Wasps gym on Thursday, rebuilding his strength following surgery to correct a disc problem that was worsening by the game, and while David Young, his director of rugby, indicated that he would play precious little rugby this season – the most optimistic forecast has him returning to action at the back end of April – there is no reason to fear that he will not play a full part in England’s preparations, which begin in midsummer.
“Joe will be right for the World Cup,” said Young, who completed an urgent piece of business with his key forward before Christmas by persuading him to sign a contract extension. “The important thing is that we give him the time he needs to get himself properly fit. He’s an important player for us and we’re delighted he’s staying: if we’d lost him, it would have been a hard one to swallow. When you’re rebuilding a club, it’s not all about bringing people in from outside. It’s also about keeping what you have.”
To that end, Young has nailed down fresh deals with seven members of his current squad, including the Italian Test hooker Carlo Festuccia, the Scotland outside-half Ruaridh Jackson and last season’s captain, the centre Chris Bell. He has also lured the highly rated Dan Robson away from Gloucester, and when the scrum-half arrives to challenge the in-form Joe Simpson for his first-team place next term, Wasps will be as well-equipped as anyone when it comes to running No 9s.
In keeping with the spirit of the times, Young has applied his own thumbprint to a contract renewal that keeps him at the club until 2019. Things did not always look so bright for the Welshman, who joined Wasps just as their financial situation was hitting rock bottom and beginning to look terminal.
“So much has happened in the space of two years,” he remarked. “I was given a hospital pass, but I’m happy to say I survived it. We’re now in a position where we have a new stadium [the Ricoh Arena in Coventry], we’re building world-class training facilities and we’re in the market to improve our squad.
“Back in 2012, we were a difficult sell. What could we say to potential players? We don’t have our own ground, we’re in financial difficulties... come here and enjoy yourselves? Recruitment is still tough: Premiership clubs can’t really compete with the money on offer in France and Japan, so we’re all scrapping over what’s left. But we’re moving forward as an organisation, and that’s the important thing.”
Friday night’s intriguing league game between Gloucester and Saracens at Kingsholm throws up some eye-catching personal contests, not least between Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola, the rival England No 8s. There is also a direct confrontation on the wing between the home side’s Jonny May, very much in the national coaches’ good books, and the discarded Chris Ashton.Reuse content