Wasps legend Lawrence Dallaglio believes a magnificent seventh Gallagher Premiership title for his former club against Exeter at Twickenham on Saturday would be one of their greatest ever achievements following the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Preparations were interrupted by five positive tests for the virus, forcing eleven Wasps players to be ruled out of contention for the final against the newly crowned Heineken Champions Cup winners who managed to avoid any pandemic problems at the end of a fragmented season.
Wasps have also lost All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa to a serious groin injury, making Exeter even shorter-odds favourites to match Saracens’ double triumph last season.
However, Dallaglio insisted free-scoring Wasps still have enough firepower to upset Exeter despite losing props Kieran Brookes and Simon McIntyre, flanker Brad Shields plus exciting prospect Alfie Barbeary through the close contacts protocols.
Dallaglio told RugbyPass: “Victory in this final would be right up there with the last time we won the title in 2008 (beating Leicester 26-16 in Dallaglio’s final game) where we came back from the 2007 World Cup and were rock bottom of the table and then got into the final.
"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
“This has been anything but an ordinary season losing their director of rugby (Dai Young) after nine years and then dealing with all that has been thrown at them to take their rightful place in the final after a fantastic run of wins. It has been a phenomenal run under Lee Blackett and they are a delight to watch, very easy on the eye both sides of the ball.
“Not only do they score a hatful of tries they have the second-best defensive record since the restart. They have a number of key players who have come back from injuries, like Jack Willis, Joe Launchbury and Dan Robson, while the coaching team has been revamped and they have all delivered.
“They have a lot of confidence and talk about playing with the shackles off. They have got to the final playing a certain way and I’m sure Lee Blackett will tell them to continue to be bold and brave. It has caused the opposition all kinds of problems and if they do that and lose then that is one thing but if they change the DNA that has got them there that would be a big mistake.”
Dallaglio pinpointed the arrival from Italy of Peter Atkinson as head of performance as crucial to allowing Wasps to play with an intensity in attack and defence that few have been able to match. The former England captain also paid tribute to Exeter’s Heineken Cup triumph, acknowledging that with Wasps missing players due the virus and injury, Rob Baxter’s men will be favourites.
“They are a side that are favourites in their fifth consecutive final and have just won the European title,” added Dallaglio. “However, Wasps have shown they can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Even without the players who would have been in the matchday squad, they are a strong outfit and just have to give it everything.”
"The Exeter changing room is a unique place, it was like no other changing room"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 24, 2020
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