Joe Launchbury was denied the chance to become a Lion in the summer by Gatland – who then felt the full force of his ability at Twickenham.
The Wasps lock is a softly spoken man – and certainly does not look the type to harbour grudges – but, just like a bull, ran down everything that wore red.
As has been pointed out elsewhere, there were five Lions locks in both England and Wales squads on Saturday: Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis, Alun Wyn Jones and Cory Hill, one of the ‘Geography Six’. A strong group that certainly is but Launchbury has the measure of them all.
Of course, he didn’t go underappreciated for the entirety of the match as his outrageous offload while on the floor teed up Jonny May for his second.
However, for all the talk of “do-it-all Itoje” and the rare physical specimen, such as Lawes, among England supporters, neither matched him when it came to the dirty work either.
In sodden conditions that demanded discipline in defence, Launchbury made an England-best 19 tackles – missing only one – without conceding a penalty, and got through 13 carries before being removed from the theatre of conflict with 12 minutes to go.
It took even Jones a while to fully understand what he had in a weapon that was beginning to gather dust. Of the first seven games he was fit under Jones’ regime, Launchbury was named among the replacements in five of them.
Saracens man Kruis curried favour as a master lineout operator – but could he match Launchbury for physicality, work-rate, and explosion? Not a bit of it.
The fear remains that, with Lawes being trialled as a No6 and England at times struggling to stop quick ball at the breakdown, Launchbury could be the fall guy.
Remove reputation – as well as Launchbury’s baby face from the equation – and he’s the one man who deserves to be left alone. This is no average Joe.
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