Wasps’ training ground on the outskirts of Coventry has been a gloomy place in recent days. First came Joe Launchbury’s Lions omission and then an England squad that seemed to take no account of individual form or Wasps’ standing as the Premiership’s pacesetters.
Director of rugby Dai Young shared that disappointment but his greatest sympathy lay not with Launchbury, widely acknowledged to be the unluckiest man in the British Isles, but flanker James Haskell. If second row Launchbury is England’s form player this season then Haskell occupied that position last summer after winning the player of the series in Australia.
Unfortunately debilitating toe injury kept the 75-cap flanker out for more than six months. His comeback was in turn interrupted by a concussion and he was never able to recapture that past form in the race for Lions selection. Haskell will not view the tour to Argentina as a consolation prize, but there is a sadness that, barring an injury call-up, his opportunity to represent the Lions has passed him by.
“I really feel for Hask because if you look at last year’s Six Nations and in the summer, man of the series,” Young said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow, if you’ve got 70-odd caps for his country and not made a Lions tour. Joe, if he doesn’t get on the plane, has potentially got another crack, he’s young enough. Hask probably hasn’t. That will eat away at him deep down. He’s 32 now and probably feels deep down it’s unlikely he’s going to have another crack.
“He was coming into the Six Nations with 35 seconds and 50 minutes, he didn’t have a lot of rugby under his belt and was drip-fed into England then. Having that amount of time out, with that little rugby, it’s physically impossible to be at your best.”
Haskell will be joined in Argentina by Nathan Hughes and Launchbury, whom Young says could have done nothing more to merit Lions selection. Yet there was no room for hooker Tommy Taylor, scrum half Dan Robson lock Matt Symons, fly half Danny Cipriani or wing Christian Wade, much to Young’s bemusement.
“I’m surprised for a team that is sitting at the top, how few representative players we’ve got,” Young said. “You look at the Premiership teams below us, most of them have got more representatives on the Lions and England.” It is hard to avoid the feeling that Wade may be stuck on one cap. The 26-year-old needs just two more tries to set the record for most tries in a Premiership season. For all his undoubted attacking potency, Young feels he is unfairly judged to be a defensive liability because he is 5ft 8in.
“Over the last couple of the seasons, he has worked so much on his defence and he is now one of the best defenders within our team,” Wade said. “He very rarely misses a tackle. Makes some really good defensive reads. He may get one wrong every now and again but so does everyone.”