James Haskell to make Wasps return from the bench
James Haskell to make Wasps return from the bench in crucial Northampton Saints play-off qualification clash
Few would have predicted that Wasps’ first win at Franklin’s Gardens since 2005 at the end of January would have kick-started a charge into the top four. But after seven wins in the succeeding eight weeks , there is no doubt that Dai Young’s team are now very much in the thick of a three-way Midlands’ play-off qualification battle with Leicester and Sunday’s opponents.
The eight-point gap between third-placed Wasps and the fifth-placed Tigers does leave Dai Young’s team some room for manouevre. Equally, with only four games remaining a win over Northampton, who currently sit one place and point above Leicester, would leave Wasps with one foot in the play-offs.
Thomas Young’s outstanding display at Newcastle - which somehow was overlooked by the man-of-the match adjudicator - registered 21 tackles and two tries. Not even his own father could have despatched him to the bench on the back of such a Herculean effort, which means James Haskell’s return to the matchday 23 will come in the No.20 shirt.
Young senior has made only one change to the pack which went toe-to-toe with a rugged Falcons’ effort, bringing Wales international Bradley Davies into the second row in favour of Kearnan Myall, who moves to the bench. Behind the scrum top-scorer Frank Halai’s return from injury to replace Josh Bassett on the left wing is offset by Dan Robson missing out at scrum half.
This gives a first Wasps (and Premiership) start to on-loan Bristol No.9 Craig Hampson who impressed from the bench at Kingston Park. Frank Halai, who has ten tries so far this season, returns on the left wing for Sunday's clash Meanwhile, Lorenzo Cittadini, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Jamie Stevenson all return to the bench.
Wasps’ boss recognised the importance of Sunday’s Midlands’ derby, and said selecting the side had required some juggling. "Sunday’s match will have huge significance in how it’s going to finish in the table," he said. "If we can get a win, it would open up a bit of a gap and put a bit of pressure on other teams behind us. "A win for Northampton, would see them breathing right down our necks, with momentum behind them as we hit the final run-in. "This week is still a little bit of a balancing act, guys that played well last week, boys coming back, boys nursing injuries and so on. "
“There’s still four more shots to get it right in the league. So while we’re not too far away from what we probably perceive to be our best 23, selection is tough in many positions. "We have given boys opportunities and they’ve played really well, you have to pick on where you believe everybody is.
"Saints are a really strong side, who are again timing their run well. They will throw everything at us on Sunday, so we need to be at our absolute best; at this stage of the season, every point won or lost could prove critical."
Northampton, who have won four of their last five Premiership matches, have made four changes to the side which picked up a bonus-point win over Harlequins on Easter Sunday. Former Rugby School star Harry Mallinder starts in the centre, while Samoan scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i replaces Lee Dickson in the No.9 shirt. Christian Day starts in the second row while Sam Dickinson’s introduction at No.8 sees Teimana Harrison move to openside alongside acting captain Tom Wood in the back row.
Wasps: Rob Miller; Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Siale Piutau, Frank Halai; Jimmy Gopperth, Craig Hampson; Matt Mullan, Ashley Johnson, Jake Cooper-Woolley; Joe Launchbury, Bradley Davies; Thomas Young, George Smith, Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: Carlo Festuccia, Simon McIntyre, Lorenzo Cittadini, Kearnan Myall, James Haskell, Jamie Stevenson, Ruaridh Jackson, Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Northampton Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, George Pisi, Harry Mallinder, George North; Stephen Myler, Kahn Fotuali’i; Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood, Kieran Brookes; Courtney Lawes, Christian Day; Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison, Sam Dickinson.
Replacements: Reece Marshall, Campese Ma’afu, Paul Hill, James Craig, Jon Fisher, Lee Dickson, JJ Hanrahan, Tom Collins.
Referee : Luke Pearce
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