sport

Launchbury ready for action

Joe Launchbury traces his rapid rise into the England team back to last season, when he was thrown in at the deep end for Wasps.

Launchbury, still only 21, was joined by the likes of Elliot Daly and Christian Wade who found themselves thrust into the teeth of a relegation battle after Wasps were decimated by injuries.

It was a case of sink or swim and Wasps' core of youngsters did the latter, building themselves an impressive reputation as the club secured survival on the final day of the regular season.

Launchbury never considered it at the time but he now recognises how that experience has helped fast-track him into a Test match against the Springboks.

"Last year at Wasps I had to take a leading role in that pack when we were struggling," Launchbury said.

"It was hard work at times and I wouldn't have said it would fast-track me but it has definitely done that.

"It was a big steep learning curve for all of us. I just had to grow up. We all did.

"We were decimated in the pack and at times we had eight or nine guys under 20 starting in the Premiership which isn't ideal.

"I played lots of games last year which might have been stretched over two or three years so that was fantastic for me.

"We had to play above our age and get stuck into matches and not be too scared of the opposition."

That attitude is standing Launchbury in good stead as he prepares to make his full England debut against South Africa tomorrow as one of six changes from the 20-14 defeat by Australia.

Launchbury is seen as England's version of Eben Etzebeth, the 21-year-old South Africa lock singled out this week by coach Heyneke Meyer as one of the Springboks' key hardmen.

Etzebeth only only made his Test debut against England in June but Meyer, the former Leicester director of rugby, already rates him as one of the world's best second row forwards.

Tellingly, England head coach Stuart Lancaster did not shy away from the comparisons but he warned England would need more than just Launchbury's power and dynamism if they are to douse the Springbok ferocity.

"There's no reason why he shouldn't be an England player for a long time," Lancaster said.

"We don't need just one enforcer against the Springboks on Saturday, we need eight.

"We need all our pack to make sure that we are on top of their game to win the breakdown battle, the physical battle, the set-piece battle which will be a necessity to win the game."