How Wasps have raised the bar. Plus four things learned following win over Newcastle
Dai Young has been repeatedly asked during Wasps’ outstanding post-Christmas run about their play-off prospects. He has responded with the straightest of bats, maintaining his focus on replicating last year’s top six finish in order to guarantee European Cup qualification. His team has now won nine of its last ten Aviva Premiership matches and in the process climbed from ninth to third, a point behind Exeter and only four in arrears of table-topping Saracens.
Four matches remain and with the last of these being a banker five-pointer against a London Irish side who in all probability will already be relegated, play-off qualification prospects are rosy.
Glamorgan’s Sophia Gardens home is only a slog-sweep away from Cardiff’s Arms Park home where Young spent his formative years. Hopefully he is now able to switch seamlessly into the dashing strokeplay seen from the likes of Viv Richards and Javed Miandad in the 1980’s and 90’s, since his team's form has rendered the Boycottesque defensive prod obsolete.
Better Discipline Required
The penalty count against Wasps was again too high - 14 in total - but more concerningly nine of these came in the first half. Young’s team have conceded 15 penalties per match on average over their last three outings against Leicester, Sale and Newcastle. They have still won these games, but as Young acknowledged afterwards the concession of more than ten penalties puts a team under pressure and will eventually cost them a tight match. Further, when referee JP Doyle reviews his performance, about which Newcastle boss Dean Richards was fuming afterwards, he will surely conclude Wasps should have lost a player to the sin-bin during the first ten minutes.
They conceded five penalties, including four in quick succession in their own 22 defending a sequence of driving line-outs through illegal means. The award of a yellow card statistically costs the offenders seven points and had this happened Wasps would have faced a ten point deficit at the end of the first quarter.
George Smith, was warned by referee JP Doyle during the early stages of the match.
Young expects James Haskell and Bradley Davies to return from their post-Six Nations breaks next week, while he welcomed back three members of England’s Grand Slam-winning squad at Kingston Park. Matt Mullan was part of a solid scrummaging effort, which comfortably withstood Newcastle’s attempts to force penalties through secondary drives, while Joe Launchbury’s characteristically industrious effort featured ten carries and 12 tackles
Meanwhile Elliot Daly contributed a couple of excellent outside breaks, one of which saw him turn on the after-burners, only to frustratingly fail to find his support with the try-scoring pass. This was an area where Wasps fell slightly short, especially in the first half, when their five or six line-breaks produced only two tries.
The Thrill of the Chase
Young’s team clearly want to play with ball in hand, but there are times when the best option (or sometimes only option) is putting boot to ball. Both Wasps’ scrum halves kick accurately from the base, and Jimmy Gopperth is also a more-than-adequate tactician.
But the age-old rugby adage states a kick is only as good as the chase, which follows it, and Wasps regularly give their opponents too much time and space.
The try which brought Newcastle back into the match on the stroke of half-time was a case in point. Wasps twice kicked infield from their own 22, and both times invited the excellent Simon Hammersley to run back at them by failing to apply pressure quickly enough.
Falcons to Fly Again
With the exception of their defeat at Gloucester, Newcastle have twice pushed Wasps as hard as anyone during their winning sequence. They were unfortunate to lose influential scrum half Micky Young in the opening five minutes, but in flanker Nili Latu, hooker George McGuigan, Hammersley and centre Chris Harris had three outstanding performers.
Their set-piece is ruggedly competitive and their direct approach with ball in hand is very effective if oddly reminiscent of Leicester in the 1990’s! Their season now hinges on the visit of London Irish in three weeks’ time, although they also have the visit of Sale to Kingston Park on the last day of the season as a safety-net should an unlikely slip-up occur.
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