Dai Young faces Wasps selection poser for Exeter Euro QF clash
Wasps boss Dai Young faces an intriguing selection poser ahead of this weekend’s European Cup quarter final clash with Exeter. The Chiefs’ last visit to the Ricoh spelled disaster for Wasps , who collapsed to a 27-41 defeat in December’s Aviva Premiership clash. The visitors win was built on the back of five close-range tries, most of which began life as penalties which they translated into five-metre lineouts through Gareth Steenson’s pinpoint touch kicking.
Wasps were missing key men Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury that day, and no other opponent either before or since has caused them more than a normal amount of difficulty with their driving lineout.
However, matching the Chiefs’ forward power will be high on Young’s list of priorities as he constructs his matchday 23, as will ensuring his team’s defensive penalty count is minimised.
Another aspect of the lineout - securing their own ball - proved problematic for Wasps last weekend against Northampton. This may seal a European Cup starting place for in-form lineout specialist Kearnan Myall alongside Launchbury in the second row. The other key question is who starts at hooker, since Ashley Johnson and Carlo Festuccia both struggled to consistently locate their jumpers against Saints. The South African’s bulk and ball-carrying may just win the day, although it will be a tight call and Edd Shervington may also come into the equation.
The remainder of the pack selects itself - props Matt Mullan and Jake Cooper-Woolley dominated Northampton’s front row, while George Smith, James Haskell and Hughes are the best back row combination in the Premiership and possibly Europe.
Whichever hooker misses out will join props Lorenzo Cittadini and Simon McIntyre, Bradley Davies and Sam Jones or Thomas Young on the bench. Dan Robson is expected to return from a hand injury to partner Jimmy Gopperth at half back, while Frank Halai, Siale Piutau, Elliot Daly and Christian Wade will fill shirts 11 to 14.
Full back Charles Piutau is also expected to return from a hamstring strain and it is a sign of Wasps’ current squad depth that this will push last week’s man-of-the-match Rob Miller to the bench alongside Ruaridh Jackson and Jamie Stevenson, since on-loan Bristol scrum half Craig Hampson is unavailable for Europe.
Wasps will probably face Exeter three times in the next five weeks, since this weekend’s clash is followed by a league meeting at Sandy Park two weeks’ later, after which the teams are set to meet again in the Premiership semi-final.
Young has a healthy respect for Rob Baxter’s team, but says Wasps will take some beating if they manage to impose their own game on Exeter. "We know how good the Chiefs can be, because we came second best by a large margin when we played them last time," he says. "They taught us a bit of a lesson with their driving lineouts and we’re going to have to be better than we were then.”
"They’ve shown this season that if you give them a platform five metres from your line they will score with a driving lineout or pick-and-goes.” "They are the best team in the Premiership at achieving seven-pointers from the green zone inside the opposition 22, so we have to ensure we don’t give them that opportunity.”
"They are also one of the best starters in the Premiership - they raced upto something like a 20-point lead last time, and we have to make sure we start well and don’t give them that chance again. "Exeter are also very good defensively with a lot of line-speed, they play with a lot of width and have a great kicking game through Steenson at No.10, so we know what they’re going to bring.”
"We’ll give them the respect they deserve and we’ll plan accordingly, but as I keep telling our team it doesn’t matter who’s in the next changing room, it’s about us. "We need to get our game going and play the way we want to play and if the opposition is good enough to beat us on the day then fair play to them."
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