Perched awkwardly on the arm of a chair and speaking in his quiet tones, Joe Launchbury inadvertently dismantled any remaining credibility to the claims of arrogance levelled against the England team.
Launchbury was not addressing Jim Telfer’s spicy comments directly. That had been taken care of by England’s bristling head coach Stuart Lancaster, who said adamantly: “It is not in our culture”. The 21-year-old lock, England’s player of the QBE autumn series, was explaining why he had decided to donate his prize money to the Matt Hampson Foundation for injured rugby players.
Hampson was left paralysed when a scrum collapsed during an England Under-21 training session in 2005. For every fit and active player, both amateur and professional, the sense of “there by the grace of God go I” is inescapable. Launchbury’s gratitude for being an England international, for having achieved so much so quickly, is the polar opposite to the picture painted by Telfer of a “condescending” team carried away with their own success.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to give the money to. They do some great work for injured players,” said Launchbury, who will make only his third England start against Scotland today. “This is a tough sport and anything can happen. Unfortunately, these guys have been there. The rugby community is a small one and it is a tight one. You never wish that on anyone. I understand I am in a privileged position and one I need to make the most of. I am out there every day working as hard as I can to try to become a better player. I have had a few messages from Matt thanking me for the donation and he said the money would go to great use. It was just a small amount to help.”
Launchbury’s route to the top appeared to have halted when, just four years ago, he was informed by Harlequins academy manager Tony Diprose that he would not be offered a professional contract. Launchbury was dejected but he decided not to quit the game, an attitude of determination which marked him out as a player with potential from an early age. Diprose knew it but there was no room for Launchbury, who returned to Sussex and played for Worthing while stacking Sainsbury shelves.
Andy Turner, the rugby coach at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, had seen it when Launchbury was pupil, first XV rugby captain, goalkeeper and wicketkeeper. Turner had organised for Launchbury to join Worthing, who were coached by the former Wasps prop Will Green. It took a game, against Barnes, for Green to phone his old club with a recommendation.
“The unconventional route I have had to get here has made me grateful and the inspiration I have had from outside has made me grateful,” Launchbury said.