Monday, 29 December 2014

Wasps - halfway house

Ok, with eleven games completed - Wasps sit in sixth on equal points as Sale, same wins and losses but with a better points difference. So all to play for with Sale next up. In essence over the next eleven league games Wasps need to again to beat some of the top six teams but this time around back it up with wins against teams they should beat - that is there is a need for greater consistency.

Now the good news is the long needed performance consistency appears to be in place. It is now also possible to define Wasps through their playing style. We saw during the London Irish match added to the usual smash up from the back row some pull back passes to second wave runners, Christian Wade in particular being very effective and willing to take on this unselfish role and link well with the likes of Masi, Miller, Jacobs, Daly etc who in turn have all straightened the line well to provide the wingers options. The result has been at least 3 tries directly scored in the Irish and Gloucester games. This should not be underestimated as Wasps have very seldom scored tries through creative play over the last 3 to 4 seasons - usually from counter attack, individual brilliance or line out drive.

This second wave running option is essential to any further progress up the league. Talk of this player or that player coming in to strengthen the squad is pretty much irrelevant if the playing pattern is not clear and strong. However Wasps also need to develop much more in the contact area to compliment this extra attacking threat. All our opponents will and are targeting knocking over our big back row runners at source to prevent quick ball. Against Irish, Irish achieved this however stepped over the mark and conceded soft penalties, some fair some not. Equally against Gloucester a Haskell midfield bust followed by quick ball led to a try for Wade. Against Gloucester we saw little else and were in the end quite fortunate that Gloucester still seem unclear about their best playing combinations. Against the top sides and indeed the likes of Sale and Quins the main contenders as we stand, Wasps need to do more.

So whilst continuing with the ball carriers and second wave running patterns Wasps need to be offsetting or offloading before contact to free up the ball more quickly. The rub for Wasps will be getting the selection balance right in the back row. Although the power available through Johnson, Hughes and Haskell is very shall we say "comfort zone" it is not really helpful in terms of support play, which is required against the better teams. If Johnson were to move to hooker as reported then this move would permit Haskell to play 6 with the chance to play a 7 with better running lines and support play - Jones or Thompson.

Nevertheless even without these changes a top six finish is a realistic goal for this season. The next fixture against Sale will be difficult as they are an outstanding team and offer more threat than most. Wasps have had an exceptional start to the season, should really be 4pts further on after beating both Bath and Northampton, however with a win v Sale everything will still be on course for a top six finish. Lose and it will be a scrap to the final game of the season.

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