'There's nothing worse than seeing that Stuart Hogg try. How he kicks it and gets on the end of it, it's a disgrace'
Frustrated Wasps boss Lee Blackett has read the riot act to his underperforming squad in the wake of last Saturday’s second-half capitulation at Exeter, the visitors conceding three tries in the closing eleven minutes and seeing a 13-10 interval lead turn into a despairing 13-43 defeat.
Blackett’s side defeated an understrength Exeter 34-5 at the Ricoh on the first Saturday in January but any suggestion that result was somehow a measure of revenge for their loss in last October’s 2019/20 title decider at Twickenham was blown away in an embarrassing second half at Sandy Park.
The defeat marked Wasps’ eighth loss in their last ten Premiership outings and it has left them adrift in ninth place with six matches remaining, ten points shy of sixth place for the last of the Heineken Champions Cup qualification spots and a whopping 19 points behind Harlequins in the fourth and final league title playoff spot.
Whereas many of the recent Wasps losses were unfortunate, their barren spell even including two one-point defeats, what unfolded in Devon snapped the patience of the normally composed Blackett and nothing seemingly has been left unsaid in the hope of provoking a positive reaction when they host Bath this Sunday in Coventry.
What bugged the coach the most was how his charges faded in the type of high-ball-in-play contest they feel they usually thrive in, the Wasps bench unable to up the effort when it mattered most, and it resulted in some home truths being delivered on Tuesday when the squad reassembled to review the seven-try, 30-point hammering.
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“First half we were nowhere near our best but we were scrapping, we were fighting and we fully deserved to go in ahead,” said Blackett at this weekly Wasps media briefing. “We started the game average but got into it well and created opportunities. But we needed to go in further ahead than three points and then in the second half, there was very little that went right… we were fighting but the last eleven minutes I will remember for a very long time. We just don’t want to see that from a Wasps team.
“If you look at the game, and we have got a lot of data in terms of the running volume, we had 38 minutes ball-in-play and a season-high in terms of our explosive running. There was a lot of running involved, it was a fatiguing game but that is where we want to take teams and that was our aim.
“That was the most disappointing thing because part of our identity is taking teams to a dirty place and then backing ourselves when we get in that dirty place to be stronger. It got tough at the weekend, especially towards the back end. We faded.
“No one at this club wants to be associated with a team that rolls like that and the last three tries were unacceptable. It was as dark a meeting as you are going to get after the game in terms of our meetings – we did our review Tuesday and we had to show what it looked like and we had to be really honest. We are not going to be a club that accepts what went on in that last ten minutes. I never want to see that again.”
Being more specific about what left Wasps down, Blackett focused on his bench and their flaky assistance in the April sunshine. “One thing when we are at our best is when our bench is delivering, our bench coming on and putting a performance on.
“At the weekend when you are struggling and involved in a game like that, work-load wise and the amount of running we did in contact it was a season-high by a distance and that is where you need your impact guys coming off the bench and being fresh. We don’t look to blame a certain amount of people but I do feel overall our bench could have helped us.
“The game as soon as it was slightly gone and how hard the guys worked, we faded and there is nothing worse than seeing that Stuart Hogg try. How he kicks it and gets on the end of it, it’s a disgrace. Fair play to Sturt Hogg, who is a quality player. He is quick but we needed to be better than that and I’m not going to hide, I’m not going to stand behind it – it wasn’t acceptable and we are all aware of that.
“When we are at our best we want high-ball-in-play, there is no doubt. Anyone can see when we are at our best, it’s unstructured, it’s broken, it’s how we want the game and that was the thing that disappointed the most, that when it got to that stage towards the back-end we allowed the mistakes that happened to get on top of us and we ended up folding.
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“We are not going to stand here as a group and say that is anywhere close to being acceptable. It’s not and that is the thing we are taking from it, we need to be stronger. Even if things aren’t going our way and we have got the high-ball-in-play, we need to react and not let it be a negative impact like it had at the weekend.”
Switching to the post-mortem that unfolded on Tuesday, Blackett continued: “As we do every week we speak to the leaders in the morning and I thought those leaders came in with similar messages. Everyone was a little embarrassed with how the game ended and they all had very similar opinions.
“The review and the clips we put up, there was no arguing. You couldn’t argue with anything that was being shown and there was data backing up that video footage. It was a hard one to take but sometimes you can see the silence when you are asking questions and the silence spoke volumes.
“Everyone knows what is expected of them and that isn’t the standard we set. We expect a reaction. We have trained well so far in the week but there is no point in training well and not delivering at the weekend. It’s all about what we deliver this weekend.”
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