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Rugby | Springboks

Joe Launchbury © Gallo Images

Launchbury will make big difference

The return of lock Joe Launchbury should make a big difference to England’s chances of levelling the series against South Africa by winning the second test in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Wasps captain missed last week’s opening game of the three match series because of a calf injury sustained nearly two weeks ago and up until Wednesday morning he was in doubt for Saturday.

However, he showed no ill effects from training by himself the day before when he woke up on Wednesday and was cleared to rejoin the team training, where he apparently came through with flying colours later in the morning.

“Joe trained today and he trained well,” said a visibly pleased England forwards coach Steve Borthwick at a lunch time press conference in Umhlanga Rocks.

“He has done a great job with his rehabilitation and will be available for selection.”

As one of the more experienced forwards in the squad - he made his first start for England in the 2012 Twickenham test against the Springboks - the return of Launchbury has considerably lifted the England spirits.

“He is captain of Wasps and has loads of experience so just hearing his voice on the training field automatically lifts both the spirits and the standards,” said scrumhalf Ben Youngs.

“Joe is a world class operator and the fact that he is back on the pitch is a massive boost for us this weekend.”

Launchbury is expected to be installed as Maro Itoje’s lock partner when the England team for the second test is confirmed at the Umhlanga Rocks team hotel at lunch time on Thursday. Itoje wasn’t great in the first test and England will be hoping that the return of his experienced partner will lift him.

“Having a player of Joe’s quality available is great. He has been brilliant around the squad on this tour even though he hasn’t been playing,” said Borthwick.

“He is a big lock but also very talented. You can see his ability both in the loose and in the tight. He’s also very good in the maul, both on attack and defence. He is also a top scrummager. He will make a big difference for us.”

Borthwick, like England’s scrum coach Neal Hatley the day before, insists that England are in a good space and are confident ahead of Bloemfontein despite last week’s defeat. While admitting there were plenty of mistakes that needed to be rectified, Youngs was in agreement.

“When we watched the video of the game there were plenty of things we thought we could have done a lot better, but there were also moments when we went ‘hey, wow, look at that’…stuff we surprised ourselves with how well we did it,” said Youngs.

“In the first 20 minutes last week we were very, very good, and we achieved what we set out to do, which was to dominate possession, get a foothold in the game. We didn’t think we’d get the big lead that we did in that period. But then a combination of defensive areas and discipline let us down and we didn’t get our hands on the ball for the next 40 minutes.

“We knew there would be a period when they’d have the ball and put us under pressure but we were so inaccurate around our decisions on when to compete and when not to compete and we gave away soft penalties. At one stage they had four penalties in a row and you can’t afford that if you don’t want to give the other team momentum.”

It will be interesting to see what changes will be made to the England team by coach Eddie Jones, who apparently likes to keep his players on edge by making them work at impressing him in training rather than put their minds at rest at the start of the week.

“That is the way Eddie has done it since he took over. He will have a word in your ear during the week on whether you are playing or not but he has been clear that you have to give your all at training if you want to play,” said Youngs.

While the return of Launchbury has rectified one potential problem area - the English media felt that Jones humiliated Nick Isiekwe by pulling him off before half-time last week - there is a chance that New Zealand bred Brad Shields might still get to be part of the starting team in his usual position on the flank.

Former England captain Chris Robshaw is said to be under pressure for his place in the face of a strong challenge from Shields, who has impressed his new teammates.

“He has fitted in well and he brings loads of experience from Super Rugby and his knowledge has been invaluable for us on this tour,” agreed Youngs.


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