Joe Launchbury takes enormous satisfaction from the current phase of his England career even though his days of being an automatic starter appear to be behind him.
Launchbury started 21 straight Tests from 2012 to 2015 when he was considered an automatic pick for the second row, but the emergence of Maro Itoje and George Kruis and the resurgence of Courtney Lawes have forced him onto the fringes of selection.
The 28-year-old was taken to Japan for last autumn’s World Cup but made just one appearance against the United States and was overlooked even for a bench role for the knockout games.
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But in the wake of appearing as a replacement in the 13-6 victory over Scotland in round two of the Guinness Six Nations, he insists his international career remains fulfilling.
“In a strange way, I’m extremely proud of my last couple of years of playing for England,” the Wasps forward said ahead of Sunday’s clash with Ireland.
“When I first broke into the team I probably played a lot and started a lot, and that was something I didn’t know would happen. But it happened and I went with it.
“But now we’re in such a fortunate position with the team in that we have so many great players.
“I look at the strength in depth, particularly in my position, and I think, ‘What a great team to be part of’.
“For us as players it’s a huge thing to be part of this team and we know that Tests are won in the last parts of games. So if your role is to be on the bench, then your role is just as important.
“As an experienced player, I love playing for England. The reason I work as hard as I do is because I’m desperate to carry on playing.”
Launchbury made his England debut in 2012, 22 months after he appeared for Wasps for the first time having impressed director of rugby Dai Young at a time when the club were teetering on the brink of financial oblivion.
It therefore came as a blow when he leaned last week that Young is stepping back from first team duties for an “interim” period following successive disappointing seasons at the Ricoh Arena.
“Dai’s been pretty much the main constant throughout my career. Since he arrived we’ve been through some great highs and some lows,” Launchbury said.
“I still don’t know exactly what will happen but whatever does, he’s obviously been a huge part of the club over the last 10 years and a lot of the success is down to him.
“When he first came in, he would probably tell you that he was forced to play us. I don’t necessarily think that was the case.
“Although it’s easy for him to say now that he chucked in the youngsters because he had no choice, I think he genuinely had a proper belief in us.
“If you look at where that group has gone to now, it’s testament to that – me, Elliot Daly, Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade… We’ve pretty much all had good careers.”