England starlet set to Launch
Duncan Bech focuses on England newcomer Joe Launchbury as he looks ahead to the rugby union year to come.
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The name Joe Launchbury would have drawn quizzical looks before the autumn, but as world champions New Zealand limped away from Twickenham it was confirmed that England had unearthed a gem.
Only three years ago Launchbury was stacking shelves at Sainsbury's and playing for Worthing in National Two, a player of rich potential yet to receive his break.
Fast forward to December 2012 and the 21-year-old Wasps lock was basking in the glory of being voted England's player of the QBE autumn internationals and securing a spot in an initial British and Irish Lions squad drawn up in private by Warren Gatland and his coaching lieutenants.
"My mum keeps saying to me, 'Oh my God - I can't believe it!'. At the moment I'm so caught up in the heat of it all. You don't really have much time to think what you're doing," Launchbury said.
"To win man of the series was massively humbling and I'm grateful to everyone who voted. I was shocked to even be shortlisted.
"It was an amazing month for me. As the weeks went by I felt like I grew in confidence and for it all to culminate in that amazing win against New Zealand topped it off."
A strong debut from the bench against Fiji and another impressive replacement display against Australia saw Launchbury promoted to the starting line-up for South Africa and New Zealand.
Far from being overawed by the prospect of facing the harshest of Test baptisms against the southern hemisphere superpowers, the Devonian thrived amid the intensity.
Mixing athleticism with physicality, skill with aggression, he was a towering presence in England's pack.
Tom Wood finished man of the match in the record 38-21 rout of New Zealand, but the award could just as easily have been Launchbury's as he hurled himself against the All Blacks time and again.
Stuart Lancaster, England's head coach, consulted Wasps director of rugby Dai Young before selecting the Lion-in-waiting and was told that the player was the first name on the club's team sheet.
At his current rate of progress, it will not be long before Launchbury is also the first name on an England team-sheet that looks far more exciting after New Zealand were demolished in such magnificent fashion.
"Joe's a big man with physical presence and his impact has been very impressive for a young man. He's virtually error-free in his core skills," Lancaster said.
If Launchbury continues to impress during the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, a Lions Test spot awaits.