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

By Paul Smith
(Photo by PA)

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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Shaun Edwards on French

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.”

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.

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“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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Shaylen 28 minutes ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 6 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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