Lee Blackett has revealed his Wasps matchday 23 will be four regular men down when they take on Exeter in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final. The Coventry-based club were hit by a Covid-19 outbreak at the club in the wake of the semi-final win over Bristol on October 10.
Explaining that Wasps had in total eleven players out due to positive tests and close contact protocols, Blackett said he still had a squad of 33 available to pick from for a final where the club’s participation was confirmed around 2.30am on Wednesday morning when the last of the results from the latest round of testing came through.
“We have got 33 players to pick from,” said Blackett at his pre-final media conference. “We had five players test positive overall but they have taken down some other players in terms of their contact time.
“As we have always said the safety of our players is more important than any rugby game. If we feel someone spent too long or too close contact with other people, it’s gut-wrenching for those players to miss finals especially when they have tested negative themselves but the health and safety of our players, our staff and our families is more important and that of Exeter’s as well.”
Asked how many of those eleven players were front-liners, Blackett added: “If I look at recent squads, just the last four squads, I believe it’s four players who played in the last four squads.”
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Wasps had some injury concerns coming out of the semi-final win, namely Malakai Fekitoa, but Blackett refused to provide an update for fear this could identify those who are missing with positive Covid tests when his squad is announced on Friday.
“Look, it is a bit dodgy because as soon as I tell you the injury ones you will be able to tell the cases. At this moment of time we have been advised not to say that,” he said, although he insisted speculation that Jimmy Gopperth would be missing was wide of the mark. Skipper Joe Launchbury, Josh Bassett, Dan Robson and Jack Willis are all also good to play on Saturday as they were on media duty on Thursday.
“We will be putting forward the best version that is available to us… we are confident in our squad and confident in what we have built. Our squad has actually got us through this.
“We feel the changes that are made, the drop off isn’t much. We will be in a good position. You will see when our team gets announced. It’s a good team. Take the previous few games, there are only four players missing from that so look, we’ll be in a good position come the weekend.”
Reflecting on the anxiety that went with waiting for the last round of tests to clear the way for Wasps to play in the final, Blackett continued: “We had 16 rounds of testing where we had zero positives. There was a couple of false positives within that. We’d gone 16 rounds clean and we came to the 17th, the week after the semi-final, and we have seven (players and staff). It came as a bit of a shock.
“Fair play to the medical staff, those guys have done a great job. We closed it [the training ground] down, isolated all the players from each other. That was our biggest thing, we didn’t want it spreading in camp so we isolated all the players. It was difficult with some guys living with each other. We tested Tuesday morning, we got the results through on Wednesday and trained that afternoon.
“I know it was out there that we had four cases on Saturday, but two of them were false positives. We were going in the right direction, we had gone from seven to two but there was still a concern when it came to Tuesday, have you got rid everything?
“There were sleepless nights. We got the results through about 2.30 in the morning. A fair few of the staff were up. Most of us never went back to sleep. You think you get positive news and you would be able to go back to sleep but then the excitement, the realisation of what’s just happened.
“I know what (Sale boss) Steve Diamond was going through now. I knew it would be bad but I didn’t think it would be that bad (waiting for results). I probably fell asleep about half-twelve having checked my phone from ten until about half-twelve about 20 times a minute.
“I then woke up just before two, checked who was online, stalking people to see what information they had because they were getting the information before me. There was a lot of that going on.
“Our physio was the main one getting all the information and then at 2.30 you’re starting to think the worst, what’s going on? Is he ringing people? I ended up texting him and thankfully he gave me the good news, he was waiting on just one last test result to come in. Elation.
“It’s not ideal prep but that is an advantage. Exeter played a really physical game (in the European final). I thought they fully deserved to win, but we have had two weeks’ rest. We didn’t want as much rest as we had but we’ve had it. We trained really well Wednesday. It was raining, difficult conditions, but really pleased how we came through that session. The team’s off Thursday and then we’re in on Friday.
“We can’t understate the emotion that has gone with it. It’s the pinnacle in the domestic competition. Getting to a Premiership final you work so hard. You look at the last five seasons, only Wasps, Exeter and Saracens have been in finals.
“You work so hard to get there, to have it taken away when everything was out of your control was pretty hard to take but it is going to make it even more special when it comes to the weekend.”
"The environment couldn’t be better set-up to avoid spread. Let’s hope it works out. Please God, we’ll get lucky"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 18, 2020
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