A SURFEIT of stellar locks in England’s ranks means Joe Launchbury is continually having to add strings to his bow. And that is not a problem at all.
The influential Wasps captain was named man of the match again after a typically forceful and involved display in Saturday’s 30-6 Cook Cup win over Australia.
Yet such is the current competition – British Lion George Kruis was dropped at the weekend and World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Maro Itoje was only on the bench – he knows that has to be expected every time he pulls on the jersey.
However, the 26-year-old demonstrated there is still more to come from him as, for the first time at Twickenham at the weekend, he also took control of the line-out calls for his country.
It was yet another sign of his increasing maturity and importance in a side that remains the No 2 ranked team in the globe.
As well as his 19 tackles – more than anyone else in the Red Rose ranks – and other work around the loose, Launchbury helped run that set-piece efficiently to eventually wear the Wallabies down.
Although he was a shock omission from the Lions this summer, he is certainly doing everything he can to make sure he does not lose his place in Eddie Jones’s set-up where he started alongside the similarly impressive Courtney Lawes.
When asked about that need to perform considering such competition, Launchbury – who now has 46 caps – admitted: “Yeah it’s very obvious isn’t it?
“I like to think that it’s not just second-row, it’s across the board and that’s the direction that we’re trying to get to as a team.
“To get to where we want to get to you can’t afford to just sit in the shirt and put out mediocre performances.
Every time you get in the shirt, you’ve got to really try and perform and stand up and I think across the board we’ve done that against Australia.Joe Launchbury
“Every time you get in the shirt, you’ve got to really try and perform and stand up and I think across the board we’ve done that against Australia.
“I was pleased to contribute. I felt as a forward pack it took a fair old while. We knew it would against quality opposition but I felt that over the 80, and getting into the back end of the first half, we started to get a bit of consistency there and the upper hand.”
As the dust settles on that success and attention begins to switch to Saturday’s home date with Samoa, Launchbury concedes it did feel like a significant win as England continue moving towards their ultimate goal of 2019 World Cup glory.
By then, he will be 28 and arguably reaching his peak years.
“We make no secret of where we want to go as a side,” said Launchbury, as they ruined the improving Wallabies’ hopes of going eight games unbeaten.
“If we want to be the best side we can be and go and perform we have to beat these teams around us. Australia coming here were in a great patch of form and playing some great rugby, some players back really firing for them.
“We knew the challenge and they certainly delivered.
“There were times we rode our luck possibly and I think at times you have to get that rub of the green and we certainly got that today at times. To keep going the way we did and score those tries at the end really shows a good day at the office.”
In stretching their winning run against Australia to five matches, England grafted hard and led only narrowly before finally reaping their rewards with three tries in the final eight minutes.
Always seeking improvement, Launchbury – who made his Test debut in 2012 – realises they should have capitalised more when the visitors were reduced to 14 and then 13 men at the end of the first half.
“It was around half-time and both sin-bins were punctuated by the break which means you don’t quite get the full benefit of those sin-bins,” he explained, with England only adding a solitary Owen Farrell penalty during that spell.
“It was slightly disappointing not to really ram home that advantage. We’d love to have scored that driving maul just when (Michael) Hooper got the sin bin.
“That would have been a really big fillip for us as a pack. These are all the points that are part of our continual development we want to keep improving.”
Meanwhile, full-back Mike Brown is available to face Samoa but Sam Underhill is ruled out of the climax to England’s autumn.
Brown has made a full recovery from the concussion sustained in the opener against Argentina but openside Underhill failed a head injury assessment in the opening quarter of the Wallabies win and was yesterday stood down.
Jones said: “Sam won’t be available. We just feel he needs a rest. That’s his second concussion this season so we’ve taken the view we won’t risk him this weekend.”
Stricken Samoa, whose union has declared itself bankrupt, are comfortably the weakest opposition of the autumn, but Jones said: “Traditionally Samoans have always wanted to hit hard.
“They’ll be disappointed with their performance against Romania (17-13 defeat in Bucharest on Saturday) but we know when they play at Twickenham they get excited and we anticipate we’ll have an exciting team on Saturday.”