IT HAS been a tough year for Joe Launchbury but after helping England pick up maximum points in their Rugby World Cup opener, the Wasps lock admits the worst is well behind him.
After making 15 Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances the previous year, Launchbury made just five in the competition last season.
A neck problem resulted in the 24-year-old missing six months of action and, after returning to make two appearances in May, he featured in the Red Rose’s gruelling 12-week World Cup training camp.
Despite having to settle for a place on the bench against Fiji on Friday night – Northampton Saints’ Courtney Lawes and Exeter Chiefs new boy Geoff Parling started in the second row – he made an obvious impact.
Launchbury came on and instantly made a crunching tackle on man mountain Nemani Nadolo before helping to lay the foundation for Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola’s last-gasp bonus-point try in the 35-11 win.
“It has been a long 12 weeks but for me it has been a long 12 months,” he said.
“Being injured is never nice and I’ve always had it in mind to try and get back fit for this first game and the way the last 12 weeks have gone have been brilliant.
“It’s job done in terms of the win. We know we have got stuff to work on but it’s the first game of the tournament and we did exactly what we needed to do.
“It’s dangerous to look too far ahead but you want to try and pick up as many points as you can and that bonus point was definitely there for the taking. It would have been a missed opportunity if we had not got it.”
Fiji went toe-to-toe with the hosts in the opening half, despite making a slow start to proceedings, and went into half-time just 18-8 behind.
They reduced the arrears to seven early in the second-half but Harlequins full-back Mike Brown’s second try and Vunipola’s late score ensured Stuart Lancaster’s side took maximum points.
“We were perhaps a little too loose,” reflected Launchbury. “A bit of rain at kick-off probably didn’t help and there were a few mistakes. The message [at half-time] was to be a bit more direct and I think we got there in the second half.
“They are a great side, they have won some big games in the last few months and we knew why and we knew the threats they had. We are happy with the win.”
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