Bath’s 9-25 victory away at the Ricoh on Sunday ruined Wasps Rugby’s 150th anniversary game and handed Dai Young’s men their third defeat on the bounce.
Not Young nor the Wasps faithful can be surprised however, that the season has not started the way the had hoped. Warning signs began towards the latter end of the the previous campaign but failure to address then has left Wasps Rugby in a precarious position.
Last year’s finalists lost their long unbeaten home record when Harlequins visited Coventry in Round 3 and left with four points. Whilst few thought Quins could come and leave the Ricoh Arena victorious, even fewer thought Wasps would lose twice in the space of two weeks at home.
Coupled with last week’s defeat on the south coast to Exeter, it means Wasps Rugby have now lost three consecutive games for the first time since January 2016. Consider that last year’s runners-up lost just four regular season games across 22 rounds last term and you begin to the see gulf between this side and that of 12 months ago.
The table never lies, which is in part true, but it doesn’t factor in performance, application or the holes which certain teams can cover better than others.
The latter of those three points is most applicable to Wasps with their often dynamite attack shading over the cracks that are particularly evident in their defence.
Dai Young’s men had the sixth best defence in the league with unsurprisingly the best attack. That combination allowed them to top the table last year.
That approach is not proving as fruitful this year however and Wasps Rugby appear to have rested on their laurels somewhat this summer, both on the field and off it.
Despite results suggesting Wasps were a model of consistency last year, those of us who watched them on a weekly basis had a clear sense of a side who’s progression had stagnated past Christmas.
They limped out of Europe after being humbled by Leinster in Dublin, jogged as opposed to sprinting through the final few rounds of the Premiership and were fortunate Saracens decided to field an average side in the final round that allowed Wasps Rugby to clinch top spot.
Josh Bassett’s last minute try gave them a thrilling if unconvincing victory over Leicester in the semi-final before Exeter undid them in the final a week later.
Right now, repeating the feat of a Premiership final for Wasps Rugby this year will be a success because they look little like the side who lit up the first half of last year’s competition.
Squad Strength as Some Would Believe
A side with the financial backing that Wasps has should have a squad containing great depth and therefore should be able to cope with the loss of key players like Danny Cipriani to injury.
Of course, leeway afforded, most sides would miss a player with the mercurial talent that Cipriani possess. Yet consider the level Wasps Rugby want to be at – European contenders year in year out. Saracens were without Owen Farrell for the first two months of last season and lost just the once in his absence, ironically with former Wasps man Alex Lozowski deputising for Farrell.
Jimmy Gopperth is playing at 10 whilst Cipriani spends his time on the treatment table, meaning Wasps reliable 10-12 axis is dismantled. Nevertheless a side containing Elliot Daly, Christian Wade and Willie Le Roux should still have enough ammunition to down most sides in the Premiership.
The additions of Marcus Watson, Juan de Jongh and Gaby Lovobalavu add an element of depth but not the star quality required. When you consider their rivals have recruited the likes of George Ford, Jonny May and Liam Williams you begin to see the difference in class.
It is the forwards however where Young should be most concerned, and a number 7 jersey which is still yet to truly be filled. Not in any way discrediting the talents of Thomas Young who frequently plays there for Wasps, but the Welshman is no George Smith.
The Australian departed Wasps Rugby at the end of 2015/16 and he left a considerable hole in the Wasps changing room as well as the starting XV.
Watching Wasps towards the latter end of last season and in the big European games, you couldn’t help but feel they were a world class forward or two light of being an exceptional team. Looking on now, that is even more evident.
Take Saracens as an example once again. The summer following their double success of 2016 they recruited Schalk Burger. Admittedly slightly past his peak and in the twilight of his career yet honed in the concept of winning. Both he and Smith prove that adding age is no guarantee of faltering performance.
If anything, Wasps current predicament is crying out for a wise old head to bring the dressing room together and teach them those things that can only be gained in experience.
Wasps are an exciting young side and last year’s stellar season is proof of how good they can be. However, last year was one year on in the building of foundations that they hope will make them a top European side for years to come. The trick they seem to have missed is adding to that foundation with a signing or two to really propel them to new heights.
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