Wasps boss Lee Blackett is delighted teenager Charlie Atkinson is quickly becoming known for his ability to play this winter rather than just being the kid who was recklessly clattered in the collision that led to Owen Farrell’s Premiership red card for Saracens last September.
Atkinson’s second appearance from the Premiership bench following the post-lockdown resumption of the league in England ended abruptly, the 19-year-old left concussed and Farrell receiving a five-match ban that ruled him out of Saracens’ European campaign.
The bang ended the season for Atkinson but he has commendably bounced back to prominence in recent weeks, starting at out-half for Wasps in European wins over Dragons and Montpellier after a league run off the bench at Gloucester.
He kept that fine run of form going last Sunday at Sale, starting again in the 26-23 win, scoring a first Premiership try, beating eight defenders and making 35 metres off six carries.
It was a fine glimpse as to what he can do at senior level but even that excellent evidence didn’t see him avoid a word of warning from coach Blackett with Wasps back at work ahead of Saturday’s visit of Exeter to the Ricoh ten weeks after the teams played out an intriguing Premiership final at Twickenham won by the Chiefs.
What did you make of the visitors' performance? ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) December 28, 2020
“I had to have a word with him and I used the word stupid,” said Blackett. “There were pick and goes at the weekend where he was getting himself in as guard to make tackles and he was pushing Will Rowlands out of the way to make a tackle.
“I just had to remind him if he wants a career like Jimmy Gopperth, get yourself out of there pal. You don’t need to be doing that. Let the forwards make those tackles. But that is Charlie. The one thing you would definitely say is he is as tough as they come, but we knew that anyway.
“Defensively he is not being found for the lack of physicality which you would maybe expect from a young half-back. He has shown himself there. There are some little things just between me and him we feel he can work on and get better. There is definitely loads of improvement but we’re really pleased for the future of this club with Charlie and Jacob (Umaga) being two young 10s. Hopefully, they can take us through the next ten or so years together.”
It was Christmas last year when Atkinson fleetingly first came into the senior team fold for a training day. “It was in school holidays, he came in and had one day with us training and you saw there was something there and then.
“When we came back after the break he was the only senior academy guy that we brought into the squad to train initially after the lockdown because he was one of the guys you could see had massive potential. For me, it was about we saw something instantly in him that we liked but didn’t know he could play at this level and how soon he could play at this level.
“In an ideal world we had actually planned the Montpellier game to try and get him in to start, so that was our plan at the start of the season. Then the Dragons game with the internationals and Jacob being out, we just felt with Dan Robson being there for that game and Jimmy Gopperth outside we’ll get him in.
“What I have learned since is he is up to this level. We had our stats, Aflie Barbeary had three defenders beaten and Charlie Atkinson had eight defenders beaten at the weekend. Didn’t know how good he was going to the line and taking people on with show and go. We thought he would be good in that area but he has shown me he is actually a little bit better than what I had thought.”
Wasps are currently four wins from six in the league and Europe following a wobbly start to 2020/21 and the emergence of the likes of Atkinson has most pleased Blackett. “It’s not perfect because we would all like six but it is not a disastrous start.
“We have won four out of six and the biggest pleasing aspect out of that is how many of the youngsters have played and actually played well. The likes of Charlie Atkinson probably stands out because before the start of the season we wouldn’t have known where we were with him.
“I personally have learned loads about him as a player and I’m sure he has learned loads about himself… we’re pretty satisfied with start. We are never going to be happy with losing a couple of games, but looking at the first six games we are satisfied with what has gone on.”
"There are still question marks here in terms of will he need surgery"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 29, 2020
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