Seven long months on the sidelines came to a welcome end for Joe Launchbury when he returned to Wasps colours against Leicester Tigers at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry in May 2015. He had undergone pre-Christmas surgery on a slipped disc and played in only five Aviva Premiership games in 2014/15. A week after returning, he shared in the remarkable 40-40 draw with London Irish at the Madejski Stadium. Joe was back in the Test arena after a 14-month absence for the match against France in Paris in August 2015, was appointed as the Wasps captain for 2016/17 and led them to the Premiership final in May. He had made 75 Premiership appearances for the club and scored one try, against Harlequins in September 2013. Four years on, his experience served his country well in both Test matches against Argentina in June this year.
Sharing in England's U20 Six Nations Grand Slam in March 2011 had been the forerunner to Joe's first full cap 20 months later, off the bench in the QBE International against Fiji at Twickenham.
His initial start was against South Africa a fortnight later, followed by his substantial contributions against Australia and to the epic win over New Zealand. He became the 2012 QBE Player of the Series, and was the top tackler in the France and Italy games in 2013 with 15 and 16 respectively. He made another 15 tackles in the Ireland match at Twickenham in 2014.
Joe had a two-year spell of playing in 22 of 25 Tests, starting 19 of them including the two against Argentina in June 2013, the 20-13 victory over Australia at Twickenham that autumn and all three matches against New Zealand three years ago. He stretched over for a maiden try against Argentina in November 2013 and added a second touchdown against New Zealand seven days later. He was ruled out of the QBE Internationals in the autumn of 2014 because of a neck injury.
In November, he became the Old Mutual Wealth Man of the Match after the 37-21 victory over South Africa. His outstanding performance featured 11 carries, five gain line successes, nine tackles and nine lineout wins. Another distinction came a week later with his two tries against Fiji. It was the first instance of an England lock forward bagging a brace since Simon Shaw did so in the 59-20 win over Canada in Vancouver in June 2001. More man of the match awards followed in successive games when England beat Wales 21-16 at Cardiff and Italy 36-15 at Twickenham this February. The following month, he was the game’s top tackler with 15 when England secured the Six Nations title with a 61-21 win over Scotland.
Being part of the U20 side's success had already brought extra special pleasure for Joe, who was man of the match when gaining his third cap at that level in the 41-15 win over Ireland at Athlone that also clinched the 2011 title. He said: "It was the first competition that I had won and that includes my schooldays."
To that, Joe swiftly added the accolade of the England Player of the Tournament voted by his teammates at the IRB Junior World Championship in Italy the following June. He started every match and excelled throughout but in the summer of 2012, he was ruled out of England’s senior tour through a knee injury sustained in training.
He flew to South Africa with the party but did not recover sufficiently to remain there and was replaced by flanker Jamie Gibson, then of London Irish. Exeter-born, he was a late addition to the U20 squad in 2010-11, and has been an Open University student in Sport Science, which he combined with his initial season at Wasps. His previous academy experience was with Harlequins from the age of 15 to 17 and he added to his rugby acumen with a loan spell at Rosslyn Park, of National One.
Joe first played when seven years old at Exmouth and while at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, he captained the first XV and benefited from the guidance of his mentor Richard Baker. James Wade, the high-performance manager at Wasps, took over that mantle. In October 2014, Joe signed a new three-year contract with the club.
His representative honours include Sussex U15-U18, London & South East U16 and U18 and he scored two tries for England U18 on his debut against Japan High Schools at Brickfields, Plymouth in March 2009. That match was part of the preparations for the AER (Association Europeenne de Rugby) in France during which he played three games as England finished runners-up to the hosts.
An 80-minute appearance on his Aviva Premiership debut against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in February 2011 led to six more matches before the end of that season. He played throughout the final three games.
He has switched between the second and back rows during his playing days and, while growing up, the luminaries he admired were Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. His favourite ground is Roundstone Lane, the home of Worthing RFC, for whom he has also played and his hobbies are films and music.
20 points - 4T
2012, Fj(R), A(R), SA, NZ 2013 S, I, F, It, W, Arg(1,2), A, Arg, NZ 2014 F, S, I, W, It, NZ (1,2,3) 2015 F, I(R) World Cup - Fj(R), W(R), A, U 2016 S, It(R), W(R), W, A(1R,2R,3R), SA 2017 F, W, It, S, I, Arg (1,2)
Last updated: 18 June 2017