Post full time disaster against Bath leaves Wasps in quandary
Looking back at Dai Young’s press conference in the aftermath of Sunday’s heart-stopping defeat at the hands of Bath provides an insight into the challenges and psychology of managing top level sport.
It must be incredibly difficult to maintain a sense of saingfroid when the blood is pumping, especially after experiencing the entire gamut of emotions in the course of the previous 80 minutes.
Young’s afternoon began with the frustration of an opening half hour during which Wasps gifted Bath 15 points through errors made while in possession in their own half. For the next 40 minutes they looked much the better side, and when Jimmy Gopperth’s 74th minute penalty extended the advantage provided by Rob Miller’s try to five points, Wasps’ supporters were breathing easily.
But the final stages were car-crash viewing. Two needless penalties allowed Bath to work their way deep into the home 22, after which Young’s team were required to defend the driving lineout situation with which Exeter had inflicted so much damage seven days previously. Presumably with training ground instructions fresh in the memory, Wasps did initially repel Bath. But then Lorenzo Cittadini conceded the type of penalty which drives coaches to drink and in the process earned himself a yellow card.
This launched a sequence of events about which there was a certain inevitability. Two further penalties, George Smith’s concession of a second (far more desperate) yellow card, and eventually Anthony Watson’s match-clinching try against an over-stretched defence.
Being required to face the media within minutes of this tumultuous finale is a thankless task and one the always-honest Young accepted with stoic good grace. However, the disconnect between his pained facial expression and ever-respectful words was obvious. With hindsight, what he chose not to say was probably equally as important as what he did.
On Bath: “Bath didn’t play any rugby whatsoever, whereas we played far too much. We should have been a little bit smarter and played the game in the right areas more than we did.
“Bath were very streetwise, and as soon as we got into a danger area, they gave a penalty away.”
During the Aviva Premiership match between the clubs in October, which was played in continuous rain, both clubs took a pragmatic approach. Wasps created two chances in the first half, but Bath’s backs created very little. This time, led by Ruaridh Jackson’s natural instincts, Wasps played plenty of rugby with ball in hand and were beaten by a combination of their own handling errors and turnovers plus the refereeing of the breakdown.
With such a talented backline at their disposal, it may seem strange that Bath kicked so much ball away, but their return match, or opt for a more-of-the-same-but-do-it-better approach - my money is on the former.
On the Final five minutes and key decisions: “Cittadini’s was a definite yellow card - it was a maul and you can’t run down the side and tackle it, so I have no complaints about that. I haven’t really seen the other one yet. “I was a bit mystified by a couple of the decisions beforehand. The contact area hadn’t been reffed all game, then in the last few minutes he gives a couple of penalties against us which allowed them field position.”
Jerome Garces, who refereed the Ireland v Argentina World Cup quarter final, will have also seen plenty of last weekend’s man-of-the-match Francois Louw when he officiated South Africa’s defeat by Japan.
The Bath flanker lived on the edge of the law throughout Sunday’s contest, as a good back-rower must. His ability to spoil and slow down possession without sanction clearly frustrated Wasps, although their own lack of numbers in the breakdown was sometimes a contributory factor.
In a tight match, a second try during their dominant spell would have put Wasps out of sight. Bath twice killed the ball in their own 22 and conceded three points rather than allow the hosts to further develop promising attacks, which is exactly what the sin bin exists to deter.
In top level rugby, a yellow card is statistically worth seven points to the non-offending team. It is to be hoped that next Saturday’s referee, France’s No.1 official, Romain Poite, takes note.