sport

Humble Launchbury ready to go

Joe Launchbury has inadvertently dismantled any remaining credibility to the claims of arrogance levelled against the England team.

Launchbury was not addressing Jim Telfer's spicy comments directly. That had been taken care of by England's bristling head coach Stuart Lancaster, who said adamantly: "It is not in our culture".

The 21-year-old lock, England's player of the QBE autumn series, was explaining why he had decided to donate his prize money to the Matt Hampson Foundation for injured rugby players.

Hampson was left paralysed when a scrum collapsed during an England Under-21 training session in 2005. His spirit is inspiring and his foundation helps others in the same unenviable position.

For every fit and active player, both amateur and professional, the sense of 'there by the grace of God go I' is inescapable.

Launchbury's gratitude for being an England international, for having achieved so much so quickly, is the polar opposite to the picture painted by Telfer of a "condescending" team carried away with their own success.

"I couldn't think of a better place to give the money to. They do some great work for injured players," said Launchbury, who will make only his third England start against Scotland on Saturday.

"This is a tough sport and anything can happen. Unfortunately, these guys have been there. The rugby community is a small one and it is a tight one. You never wish that on anyone.

"I understand I am in a privileged position and one I need to make the most of. I am out there every day working as hard as I can to try to become a better player.

"I have had a few messages from Matt thanking me for the donation and he said the money would go to great use. It was just a small amount to help."

Launchbury's route to the top appeared to have halted when, just four years ago, he was informed by Harlequins academy manager Tony Diprose that he would not be offered a professional contract.

Launchbury was dejected but he decided not to quit the game altogether, an attitude of determination which marked him out as a player with potential from an early age.

Diprose knew it but there was no room for Launchbury, who returned to Sussex and played for Worthing while stacking Sainsbury shelves.

Andy Turner, the rugby coach at Christ's Hospital School in Horsham, had seen it when Launchbury was pupil, first XV rugby captain, goalkeeper and wicketkeeper.

Turner had organised for Launchbury to join Worthing, who were coached by the former Wasps prop Will Green. It took a game, against Barnes, for Green to phone his old club with a recommendation.

"The unconventional route I have had to get here has made me very grateful and the inspiration I have had from outside has made me very grateful," Launchbury said.

Launchbury's rugby is infused by his wider sporting experience at school. He is agile, dynamic and powerful with good hands and he established himself in the Wasps team last season.

Although injury cost him a place on England's summer tour, Launchbury made such an impact during the autumn series that he is now considered a British and Irish Lion in waiting.

The Six Nations will heavily influence the selection thinking of Lions coach Warren Gatland and tomorrow Launchbury will be up against the imposing pair of Ritchie Gray and Jim Hamilton.

"Every team we play in the British Isles will have second rows who are challenging for those honours and we are no different. It is the pinnacle of British rugby and something all players want to be part of," Launchbury said.

"It is dangerous to look at one on one battles, especially this weekend when you are coming up against such a big pack. It will be up to us as a collective eight to take them on.

"We know where we are as a pack. We know where we stand. We are growing in experience and Graham Rowntree has done some great work with us.

"In the autumn it went well for us up front and we don't want to let that drop off now.

"England against Scotland is a great rivalry with great history behind it. I have watched it on television for years and now I can't wait to play my part in it."