As Wasps prepare for Saturday’s European quarter final against Leinster in Dublin, skipper Joe Launchbury says it’s a chance for the squad to go out on a big stage and show what they can do, but first they need to do the hard work up front to provide a platform to play off.
Saturday’s quarter final in Dublin is Wasps’ first step into knock-out rugby this season. Borne of the hard work in the group stages, where the men in black and gold qualified top of a pool including Toulouse, Connacht and Zebre, Saturday will see the top-placed side in the Aviva Premiership take on the leaders of the Pro 12, Leinster, at the Aviva Stadium.
The location will be a familiar one for Wasps’ captain Joe Launchbury, having been part of the England side that missed out to Ireland at the same ground just two weeks ago, but who still walked away with the Six Nations trophy.
This week, Launchbury returned to Wasps where he's enjoyed slipping back into club colours:
“I think in the past, when you’ve been away on England campaigns, coming back here in the last few seasons, when you haven’t got too much to play for because you’re in the middle of the league, it has been difficult. But when you come back to a week like the one we’ve got now, it’s a huge week for us. It has been pretty easy to slot back in and it’s been really nice to be back.
‘It’s weird how things work out, I haven’t played at the Aviva Stadium in two or three years and then I’m there twice in two weeks! I’m looking forward to getting back there, it’s a great place to play rugby and it’s actually a pretty cool stadium, so I’m looking forward to it.’
Despite the familiar location, and a few familiar faces in both the sides, Launchbury says he is expecting the game to be very different to that played out between the national sides two weekend’s ago.
“I think it’s completely different; we’ve obviously got a few guys who were out there and they have gone through the same, but it’s a different group. It’s obviously fresh in my memory and I can hopefully relay some messages this week about what we can probably expect and I hope that can help the team, but overall it's a different group of players and set of circumstances.
"We’ve got a whole squad here who have worked extremely hard to get into this position. We’ve got ourselves out of a very tough pool, there were times when we weren’t favourites to get out of it, so we want to do ourselves justice now.
“Leinster have obviously got some key players in their team who were important figures in the Ireland team, so naturally those individuals will shape how they play this weekend. They have quality throughout. You look at a player like Jonny Sexton and the influence he has on a team, that doesn’t disappear when he goes back to his club, so they have a similar style in some ways but obviously in other ways they’ll be different.
Launchbury is well aware that the two teams going head-to-head this Saturday are known for their attacking prowess. However, Wasps' skipper is keen to make sure the hard graft and solid foundations are laid first.
“We’ve always been quite high in the try-scoring stakes ever since I can remember being at Wasps, but what we’ve tried to do in recent years is build a pack that we can be proud of and try to win some of our games with the work we do up front, because it can't always be left to Wadey to score tries from 50 metres. You can’t win every game like that, especially these big games, so going into this weekend, as a pack we have to be really up for this and really on it. These sort of games are rarely won by a bit of individual bit of brilliance, they’re decided by hard work up front and providing a platform to play off.
“We need to understand that sides will be trying to slow us down and spoil how we want to play. If we have quick ball with the guys we have we’ll be dangerous, so teams will purposely compete hard at the contact area and put numbers into the breakdown, but that can also be an advantage to us because that means they’re numbers down in the defensive line. It’s something we’ll definitely need to be hot on this weekend because they’ve got real threats in their back row."
Wasps as a club are no strangers to knockout rugby and, in the past couple of seasons, this group of players has become more familiar with reaching the latter stages of tournaments and they want to keep that going. Launchbury says the whole squad is looking forward to the weekend’s challenge.
“For us as a team it’s exciting more than anything else; it’s a chance for us to go out there on a big stage and show what we can do. We’ve worked hard to get ourselves here, we’ve had a few big games over the last couple of years that we can draw on as experience and we want to keep having these big games. To go to the Aviva and get a win would be huge for us.”