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'Lightbulb moments': Farrell, Mo'unga research inspires Atkinson

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Wasps boss Lee Blackett has revealed his excitement over how age-grade England out-half Charlie Atkinson put his recent lengthy injury layoff to good use by researching how Owen Farrell and Richie Mo’unga play the game in an effort to accelerate even more his own progress at the Gallagher Premiership club. 

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The 20-year-old missed the start to the domestic season in England as he needed an operation to mend the meniscus tear suffered in a pre-season friendly for Wasps versus Coventry. Aside from doing the usual necessary rehab to regain full fitness from that knee injury, Atkinson embarked on a research project at the behest of assistant coach Ed Robinson, who worked in last season’s Six Nations as England’s temporary skills coach. 

The remit was simple: take some time looking at the styles of England skipper Farrell and All Blacks out-half Mo’unga and Wasps boss Blackett has been impressed by what he has seen from Atkinson since the youngster returned to first-team training, going on to complete his comeback with a first appearance of the Premiership season off the bench in last weekend’s loss at Sale

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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload
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England’s Lewis Ludlam guests on RugbyPass Offload

There was irony in Atkinson going to the bother of researching Farrell. It was September 2020, in just his second-ever Wasps appearance as an 18-year-old, when the England U20s pick was mowed down by Farrell with a red-carded high tackle, an experience that Atkinson spoke about in an in-depth interview with RugbyPass last July.   

It was a follow-up enquiry by RugbyPass at this week’s Wasps media briefing that led to Blackett revealing what Atkinson got up to during his enforced lay-off. The coach had mentioned how players such as Joe Launchbury usually “come back better, more knowledgeable about the game” after a considerable length of time out with injury. 

This led to Blackett being asked to elaborate on examples of what “more knowledgeable” meant and it resulted in him speaking about the recent homework done by Atkinson to try and improve himself. “I say that because I experienced it and I have also seen it recently with Charlie Atkinson,” said the Wasps boss. 

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“I thought the way he has come back into the mix from being out for nearly four months, he has watched the game, has studied the game. Charlie did this thing with Ed Robinson and me where he went and looked at the best tens in the world. He studied them and came back and told us what he had seen in the likes of Owen Farrell and Mo’unga. They were the main two that he looked at. 

“Just things like that. When players are not playing, they see the game from a different perspective rather than going week on week and just looking at their performance. I find when players do that come back better. I am just giving you an example of Charlie and I thought at the weekend and having seen him back in training, he is a lot more composed as a 10 coming back. 

“I have seen Ryan Mills come back in and there were certain things we have been working on in training, without giving too much away, and Ryan Mills has come straight in and he has seen it and he is fixing things he has seen on the side of the field. So little things like that. Players study the game and I think they come back better.”   

Blackett admitted Atkinson’s study was the brainchild of Robinson. “Ed is good at things like that, he is very good on that side. We talked about Charlie staying involved as much as possible but doing it in a different way. When these guys are injured they can work on themselves physically but can they become better rugby players? 

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“It’s vital for someone like Charlie in that time. He studied both of those players and fed it back what he had seen in the two and how he could change his game and who was better at doing certain different things. I thought it was really beneficial. Sometimes those moments are lightbulb moments, it changes him.

“What probably got me when he did it was how accurate he was. I don’t think he was seeing it from an angle, he saw it with a clear mind and when he described both tens and the differences between them, I thought it showed a mature character considering he is only in his second year out of school, he is still a young guy. That was just maturity in what he had seen, trying to take aspects to help his experience.

“I’ve seen it more in training the last few weeks. He seems to have come back as a better leader for me. Before he was really quiet and I am just seeing a more controlled Charlie out there and at times taking the lead.” 

Atkinson has since been chosen as the starting Wasps out-half for next Sunday’s Premiership derby versus leaders Leicester.

WASPS (vs Leicester, Sunday)
15. Ali Crossdale
14. Francois Hougaard
13. Sam Spink
12. Jimmy Gopperth
11. Josh Bassett
10. Charlie Atkinson
9 Sam Wolstenholme
1. Tom West
2. Tom Cruse
3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen
4. Vaea Fifita
5. Elliott Stooke
6. Alfie Barbeary
7. Brad Shields (capt)
8. Tom Willis
Reps:
16. Dan Frost
17. Robin Hislop
18. Biyi Alo
19. Tim Cardall
20. Thomas Young
21. Will Porter
22. Ryan Mills
23. Rob Miller

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