Joe Launchbury is the best player not in the British and Irish Lions tour squad and frustration could dominate his every waking hour, but the chance to lead Wasps to the Aviva Premiership title against Exeter at Twickenham on Saturday is demanding all of his attention.
Launchbury picked up yet another Man of the Match award as Wasps edged past Leicester 21-20 in Saturday’s semi-final and then James Haskell, his England and Wasps team mate, was called into the Lions squad to replace Billy Vunipola, who needs a shoulder operation.
For players like Launchbury, 26, who missed the initial 41 man Lions squad, it is a case of waiting for someone to be injured which is an uncomfortable scenario. Launchbury had to battle back from a serious neck injury in 2015 which kept him out for six months and knows how fortunes can change very quickly and while he is understandably delighted that Haskell has finally become a Lion, his thoughts are with England team mate Vunipola.
Launchbury, who has won 42 caps, said:” James has shown great determination throughout his career and he goes above and beyond to be the best player he can be by looking at all kinds of things outside rugby to help his game. He had an absolute desire to be a Lion and he probably felt the chance had passed him by and so to get the call up is great. It is very easy for me to crack on and concentrate on my first Premiership final and park any personal stuff. Then straight after the final I meet up with England to prepare for the two tests against a great Argentina side.
“I am gutted for Billy who has shown his class and value to both Saracens and England. I am sure he would have shown what a great player he is in Lions colours but he going to have surgery and I am certain he will come back raring to go next season. I needed to get my neck sorted out and even though I missed all that rugby, I came out the other side knowing I had made the right decision.”
Launchbury is hoping to lead Wasps to their first title since 2008, a period when the club was dominating English rugby. Then came serious money problems and the decision to leave Adams Park in High Wycombe and relocate the club to the Ricoh Arena. Many doubted the wisdom of the move but Launchbury showed his commitment by signing a new contract and he said;” I suppose it was a slight leap of faith, but I believed in what the club wanted to achieve.
“We want to write out own history and a lot is talked about the great period of time 10 years ago and the supporters have endured a pretty lean period since then. I truly felt the move to Coventry would work and it’s probably happened quicker than I expected. “
Exeter, having beaten champions Saracens will believe they can make up for last season’s loss in the final at Twickenham by knocking over a Wasps side that finished top of the table at the end of the regular season. Launchbury used to watch Exeter, his home town club, as a 10-year-old fan when they were in the lower leagues but any sense of loyalty now rests with Wasps. “ Exeter also have a great story and I remember watching them as a young kid and they have come a long way since then. Both teams love to play attacking rugby and I am sure it will be a great game for the neutral. “
*Joe Launchbury was speaking from the Samsung Slider, a sports-viewing experience designed to bring fans closer to the action. For more information on this and Samsung’s QLED TV range, visit Samsung.com