How Shields and Sopoaga can help combat the biggest threat to Wasps' season
All Black Lima Sopoaga and former Hurricanes captain Brad Shields are being tasked with formulating a new attacking strategy for Wasps to ensure the inside knowledge of former players like Danny Cipriani, James Haskell and Charlie Piutau is not used against them this season.
Highlanders No.10 Sopoaga and Shields, who was released by the Hurricanes to make his England debut against South African in June, have now linked up with Wasps after taking a break following their final Super rugby campaigns in New Zealand and have key roles to play, made even more important by the news that leading points scorer Jimmy Gopperth is out for up to nine months after knee surgery.
Dai Young, the Wasps director of rugby, told RugbyPass the departure of players such as Gloucester outside half Cipriani, who was central to the team’s exciting brand of attacking rugby, means changes have to be made as that inside knowledge can now be used by Premiership rivals.
Those Premiership players with immediate experience of life with Wasps also include Kyle Eastmond and Guy Thompson at Leicester while the Piutau brothers – Charlie and Siale- and Wallaby legend George Smith are in the newly promoted Bristol squad.
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Young said: “There are a lot of players out there in the Premiership who know us well and if we give them an opportunity to come back and hurt us they will.
“Every year you have to evolve and change things and those players will know a lot about us and we know a lot about them. Lima will help us with our play and we are going to have to change the policies to get where we need to be.
“Lima is a different player to Danny with other strengths and weaknesses and fundamentally we may have to adjust our game to suit his strength’s rather than Danny’s. We believe Lima is of similar quality to Danny although he will have different ways of getting us into certain areas. He won’t take long to settle and he is going to hit the ground running and also bring in some ideas to add to what we have.
“Brad is recognised as a having great leadership skills and has been a captain from a young age. He sets standards on and off the pitch and that can only benefit everyone at the club.
“His incredible work rate in games puts him up there with the best. Defensively he is very strong and makes a lot of dominant tackles as well as being a good ball carrier and line out option. He is an international player and bringing that kind of experience from New Zealand is always beneficial and adds to the environment.
“We believe he can help us move forward on and off the pitch. He will be able to help Joe Launchbury because being captain is not an easy job and the more like-minded people who can share the workload and set the standards the better. Otherwise the captaincy can become a bit of a chore rather than an honour. We have a number of players who are very experienced but that doesn’t mean they want to stand out and lead but Brad is someone who will stand shoulder to shoulder with Joe.”
Young is looking forward to seeing the impact Shields can have on the development of exciting young flanker Jack Willis who is recovering from knee surgery.
“Jack Willis will not be back from his knee operation until after Christmas but he will be able to learn from Brad and we saw the impact George Smith made when he was with us a couple of seasons ago. Brad can play 6 or 8 and Jack can play right across the back row and it was never a case of bringing Brad in for Jack. We believe Jack is an excellent prospect as we saw last season before his injury.
“It is great for the Premiership to have Charles (Piutau) back and his brother Siale was an unsung hero when he was with us. Charles is a phenomenal player and can either step you or just run over you – he has that ability. What can you say about George Smith? He is a fantastic player.”
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