Five things learned during Wasps defeat by Exeter
Driving home for Christmas
Dai Young said afterwards that his team were second best in most areas. That assessment was a little harsh, but there is no doubt that Exeter’s driving lineout was the main difference between the sides.
Exeter were awarded four penalties before half time, three of them went into the corner, then the subsequent lineouts were rumbled over the whitewash. In the second half they repeated the manoeuvre three times, with one success.
The World Cup showed us that defending this ploy is far from impossible and Wasps had not conceded in this way prior to Saturday, which makes their plight doubly surprising. Exeter’s Rob Baxter commented that his coaches had seen ‘a chink’ then exploited it with brutal efficiency.
Other Premiership teams will have taken note and as a result Wasps should expect plenty of opportunity to put their defensive house in order.
Half back Heaven
On a more positive note, the Dan Robson-Jimmy Gopperth half back combo was a successful experiment. Robson provided tempo from the base, and sniped to good effect. He faces a thankless task getting past Joe Simpson’s sustained excellence, but with the exception of a couple of wayward passes, did his cause no harm whatsoever.
Gopperth, who was newly-returned from three weeks on the naughty step, looked full of energy, and hungry for action. He carried the ball nine times, released his backs to good effect, while his perfect five-from-five return from the kicking tee was outstanding in such windy conditions.
The thrill of the Chase
Such is the minute detail now available to Aviva Premiership analysts, nothing remains a secret for long. Exeter’s tactical kicking game, and in particular their kick chase, provided a perfect example of this. Wasps’ newly-constructed back three, led by their two All Blacks, has been an impressive counter-attacking force so far this season. Christian Wade’s injury has brought Sailosi Tagicakibau, a very different style of winger, into the no.14 shirt. However, it was noticeable that when Exeter kicked infield, their chase had width as well maintaining an impressively disciplined line. As a result, Charles Piutau was unable to spark much from the back, and Wasps’ Kiwi duo were responsible for six turnovers.
Although Wasps’ set-piece performed solidly, their forwards certainly missed the power of Joe Launchbury, James Haskell and Nathan Hughes in other areas. It is impossible to know whether the presence of these three would have enabled Dai Young’s team to completely see off Exeter’s lineout drives, but given Haskell’s organisational skills and experience, it is hard to imagine the same ploy being successful four times.
Hughes is Wasps’ most effective ball carrier, and without him they lacked the go-forward his stellar form has provided so far this season. Guy Thompson battled hard, and along with Ben Jacobs was responsible for the line-breaks which created Wasps’ second half tries .
However, Young’s team looked very lateral before the break, albeit against well-organised opponents.
Merry Christmas Everybody
Slade had to feature somewhere in this analysis, but unfortunately for England Henry-of-that-ilk will miss the Six Nations after breaking his leg in the closing stages of Saturday’s match. Exeter’s 22-year-old had become something of a ‘talking player’ after the World Cup, given the paucity of England’s creative options inside Jonathan Joseph. Hopefully he will be back before too long. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see whether new England supremo Eddie Jones revisits the wide range of discarded and/or discredited inside centres tried by Stuart Lancaster, or plucks a rabbit from his (presumably) cork-laden hat.
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