Launchbury Rises to the Challenge
Wasps Joe Launchbury is being tipped to take on a new role as England’s lineout chief.
The 24-year-old lock partners Saracens’ George Kruis in the boiler-room, and in the absence of Tom Wood, the pair will be required to provide most of England’s possession from the setpiece.
England’s No.8 Billy Vunipola is too heavy to lift, while both Haskell and Chris Robshaw play only limited parts in the lineout for their clubs, making Launchbury’s role a vital one.
Lineout responsibilities within the new England set-up rest with forwards coach Steve Borthwick, a renowned specialist during his own 57-cap England career.
England could have picked anyone in the world for that job bar maybe the five top Test coaches, but they chose Borthwick.
It probably wouldn’t have come about had Steve and Eddie Jones not worked together with Japan, but it’s a huge endorsement of Steve’s abilities.
He’ll be the best prepared forwards coach in the world, and I imagine he’ll make Joe Launchbury his lieutenant on the pitch.
Joe is young, intelligent, modest - just Borthers’ cup of tea. They’ll spend a lot of time in each others’ company, whether Launchbury wants to or not, and Steve can help him take his game to the next level.
Consciously or unconsciously Steve will make a pet of Joe, and that will be that - they will be looking at laptop screens together for the rest of their working relationship.
But that will just make England get better and better, if England get anywhere near Steve’s required standard they’ll be very, very good.”
Wasps skipper James Haskell has been handed a vital role in England’s quest to extend their unbeaten Calcutta Cup run to eight matches tomorrow at Murrayfield.
The forward battle will be key to the outcome of the match, and attention will particularly be focused on the performance of the two back rows around the breakdown area.
Haskell will be wearing the No.7 shirt which has been at the centre of so much attention in recent times, despite only appearing there in a small proportion of his 62 test matches. However, he is unconcerned by the prospect, and says too much is being made of it.
“I have played more at No.7 than in any other position over the last five years, and I really enjoy it,” he said.
“I have talked ad nauseum since the World Cup about the balance of the back row being more important than shirt numbers.
“We have this obsession in England about No.7 that was latched onto before the World Cup. In the modern game it’s more about playing your role in your channel, and when you get an opportunity taking it.”
His selection within a huge back row trio suggests England will adopt a power-based approach, with the objective of starving the hosts of possession.
By contrast, Scotland seem likely to adopt a more fluid style. In selecting both John Hardie and John Barclay, who are both specialist No.7’s, Vern Cotter has mirrored the approach favoured by Wales and Australia in the recent World Cup, which caused England plenty of problems.
Wasps’ in-form centre Elliot Daly was considered by many to be extremely unfortunate to neither oust Jonathan Joseph from the starting XV, nor claim a spot on the bench
However, he has received a boost with the news that he is the travelling backs’ reserve for tomorrow’s match.
Toulon’s out-of-favour former England flanker Steffon Armitage has become the latest voice to criticise Daly’s omission, saying it sends the wrong message to aspiring England hopefuls.
“I’m disappointed not to see a few faces in the team for the first game,” the recent European player of the year said.
“Elliot Daly has been one of the stars of the Premiership and in Europe this year.
“You have to put these players in when it’s their time, I don’t know what kind of message it’s sending, because they’ll be wondering what they have to do to get in there.
“Sometimes it’s best to throw them into the deep end because otherwise when are you going to do it? This is the perfect time.”
New England boss Eddie Jones responded at the team announcement: “I know you guys in the media love Daly and Mario Itoje, but they’ll get picked when they are ready to play test rugby.”
Italy have named Lorenzo Cittadini in their starting lineup to take on France in Paris on Saturday, taking his place alongside debutants Ornel Gega and Andrea Lovotti in the front row.
The tighthead prop, who makes his 45th international appearance will be concentrating on his core dtuies at the scrum, while helping to integrate a number of new faces.
“It’s the first game, so we will need to get up to speed,” he said. “We have many new faces in the team but are training well and looking for the right blend. “The pressure will all be on France. They too have changed a lot, starting with the coaching staff, and playing at home they have more responsibility to win.
Brad Davies has been named among Wales’ replacements, and the second row is likely to appear at some point during his country’s clash with defending champions Ireland in Dublin on Sunday.
This will be a notable landmark for Wasps’ former Cardiff Blues’ second row, as in the process he will collect his 50th cap. The 29-year-old made his international debut in 2009 against Scotland and was involved last year’s World Cup.
“As always, at this level, the details make the difference. In the last two outings against France we had some difficulties in the scrum and they were able to take advantage, so that should not be repeated.
“If you are here, it’s because you are the best. Those here for the first time will want to show they belong in the Six Nations and we can help with our experience.”
England prop Matt Mullan and Scotland fly half Ruaridh Jackson failed to make the final 23, and will therefore potentially be available to Wasps tomorrow.
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