Progress in the ECC, assuming Castres only focus on the Top 14 and concede 5 pointers to Quins and Leinster, will depend solely on Wasps beating Quins (away) in round 5. Otherwise the home match with Leinster in round 6 will be, from Wasps perspective, be a dead rubber. Winning/Losing Bonus points may provide some mathematical hope however realistically a defeat against Quins will end this years campaign.
This leads into the League performance and as with Europe the performance to date looks varied, however we are now starting to see from Wasps a game plan emerging, playing to the same principles every week. Results, performances may vary from week to week with supporters often remarking we could have won that one and indeed this is mostly the case. But the structure each week is mostly the same. Wasps rely heavily, almost solely on the back row of Johnson, Hughes and Haskell to provide front foot ball. If these players achieve this the back line functions much better and Wasps have pace and the players to exploit opportunities and indeed often make something out of nothing.
Defence is basically solid against teams with straight line runners, we struggle defending in the wide channels, nothing or little to do with the wingers, more so the back row and narrow structure.
If the first choice back row fail to provide the go forward when the forward battle is even, they can go missing and then Wasps seem devoid of other options to open up the opposition defence other than line out drive, counter attack and individual brilliance. The game plan is far too simple and relies heavily on the back row carrying effectively. The back line approach needs to provide greater variety and contribute more wide channel go forward options with deeper second wave runners and pull back passing. Currently the structure to do this does not exist.
This would result in getting the ball into the wide channels more often but equally would not suit the make up of the current first choice back row. Wasps need to make the next step if they are to maximise the potential within the squad and look to balance the forward and backs selection to provide go forward options across the park. We will remain a mid table team unless adjustments are made to the current game plan. Joe Launchbury does compensate for the lack of back row support in the wider channels, however even with a fit Joe Launchbury in place Wasps backs do not offer enough variety to stretch defences. In a nutshell the Wasps game plan relies on making holes in the midfield channels and for good quality teams is easy to defend.
The next game against London Irish at the Ricoh is very interesting as it offers a different challenge in terms of mind set for the first time this season. Wasps upset the apple cart in the second week of the Premiership with an outstanding unexpected win against Northampton. Very much a defensive effort, but most importantly it was in a "we are the underdog" scenario. Then we move onto Bath and here the Ricoh affect played its part. Wasps were very much underdog again but the Ricoh announcement pulled the players very closely together. Wasps play best in adversity has been a very apt description of the characterics of Wasps over several generations and the Bath game was another example. Equally in this game against Bath unexpectantly the scrum provided extra go forward to enhance the key aspect of the Wasps game plan. The London Irish game will also involve a large emotional element but this time Wasps will not be underdogs, Wasps will be hot favourites and have the burden of expection to deal with. In the world of managers playing mind games I would think London Irish have been handed game motivation on a plate, served with an expensive chilled wine and all for free. This is what Wasps need to prepare to deal with. The expectation is the Wasps pack will dominate, provide the go forward and win. However should that desire to succeed in the first game at the Ricoh become too great and London Irish are able to hold out for 20 to 30 mins, doubts and desperation may well play a part. The first quarter of this game will be very influencial and most likely determine the end result.
Wasps have assembled an outstanding squad of players which have achieved some outstanding results to date. It is only a lack of consistency of performance that places us outside the top four. Whilst certainly the Northampton game could have gone the other way, equally Saracens, Quins and Sale were games there for the taking. Consistency can only be achieved by developing the game plan as I believe the inconsistency in performance is coming from the limited, one diamensional game plan and back play. If Wasps continue to rely solely on go forward from the back row and attacking the midfield channels Wasps will remain a mid table team. Highlights here and there and low points here and there but overall a mid table, nearly team outcome.
I would think any Wasps fan would agree the Rollercoster performances/results have been very much a familar chacteristic of Wasps for some time now. So unless developments are made to the Wasps back play attack and integrated into the overall team strategy I would think we will continue to see the performance inconsistency from week to week. Some strong performances/results, some not so strong performances/results. Nonetheless this could end with a top six finish, however with the quality now within the squad the target should really be top 4 and group qualification in the ECC as a minimum. Having seen what we have so far this season, Wasps and others, for me this is now not an unrealistic expectation. New recruits will not improve the outcome as Wasps already have a squad capable of winning throphies.