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'I couldn't see the Munster game going ahead' - Wasps boss reveals chaotic scenes

By Paul Smith
Lee Blackett thought the game would be called off (PA)

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Munster have been rightly lauded across Europe for winning their opening Champions Cup tie against Wasps without the 34 players who are isolating following their recent ill-fated South African trip.

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However it has now emerged that their opponents – whose 18-strong injury list includes almost all their big-name players – were also in disarray ahead of yesterday’s clash in Coventry.

Indeed, such was the scale of the problem that Wasps boss Lee Blackett has admitted that he fully expected the round one clash to be called off only 24 hours before kick-off.

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Shaun Edwards on French
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According to their head coach, the Coventry-based club were contending with a sudden outbreak of COVID which along with the absence of Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson, Jack Willis, Malakai Fekitoa, Vaea Fifita and eight of their colleagues  threatened the viability of their European opener.

But after a number of the cases proved to be false-positives, Blackett was able to select from 25 players on Sunday morning to enable the match to proceed although the COVID outbreak saw England squad fly-half Jacob Umaga and no.8 Tom Willis join the list of absentees.

“We had 25 to pick from because that’s all we’ve got left at the moment, with everything that’s been going on in the last 48 hours,” Blackett said.

“On Friday night we got some results through really late and then on Saturday morning we got more results through and we had eight positives.

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“It’s been a difficult 48 hours. This time yesterday (Saturday) I couldn’t see this game going ahead. Boys going through the afternoon yesterday probably didn’t think the game was on, either.

“We didn’t train yesterday so the team that took the field didn’t actually do any training.

“We lost two second rows. We lost our no.8 in Tom Willis and for me he has been our player of the season so far. And then you lose a no.10.

“If you look at the spine of your team, you’ve only got a couple more positions to add and then that’s your spine gone. But there was plenty of character still out there.”

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Wasps were holding their own in a chaotic but entertaining first half, only for Brad Shields to be shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Dave Kilcoyne before hooker Dan Frost was sin-binned for diving in at the ruck.

“Losing Brad early on, we were always up against it from there. We lacked continuity and I thought Munster won the game at the breakdown,” Blackett said.

“That killed us, we couldn’t build any pressure. There were too many turnovers – we needed to be quicker in there.

“We knew the threats they have over the ball but we just weren’t good enough on the day.”

With Shields facing a suspension and Gabriel Oghre suffering an ankle injury, Wasps will be forced to dip into their academy for next weekend’s trip to Toulouse.

Munster were missing 34 squad personnel because of quarantine following their ill-fated United Rugby Championship trip to South Africa but seasoned Ireland stars such as Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray were still present.

“That’s an incredible feat for the guys who played for Munster for the first time,” flanker O’Mahony said.

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