Wasps boss Lee Blackett believes England flanker Brad Shields has regained the form that made him a key figure in the Hurricanes Super Rugby title-winning team.
Shields arrived at Wasps from New Zealand to much fanfare in 2018 as an England qualified player through his parents and was handed an international debut by Eddie Jones on that year’s tour of South Africa. He won the last of his eight England caps against Scotland last year but a recurring foot injury ruined his chances of making the Rugby World Cup squad and those set backs also meant Wasps fans only saw sporadic examples of the form that made him such a force for the Hurricanes.
Shields missed the Gallagher Premiership play-off final defeat by Exeter – due to having to self-isolate – at a time when he was forming a highly effective back row with Jack Willis and Thomas Young. With Wasps kicking off their new season at home to Bristol – the team they beat 47-24 in the Premiership semi-final – on Sunday, the good news for their supporters is that Shields is fit and raring to go, according to Blackett, the head coach.
Blackett said: “Brad is a massive leader for us and too many people had the wrong perception of him. Look closely at Brad you will see how good he is. Brad isn’t about making breaks- he does a lot of unseen work and is really important to us as a team. You will see Jack and Thomas turning a lot of ball over and generally it will be Brad who put the shot in and his line out work is phenomenal. You will see Jack and Joe Launchbury scoring tries and Brad will be on the latch carrying them over the line.
“We want to keep that momentum from last season going and look at where we can improve and we can’t stand still. As a club, we are not complacent and that is our mind set. We will focus on our strengths going into the Bristol game who are a great side and finished third with a settled squad and will be expected to be there at the business end of the season. They can run from anywhere and defensively they try to choke you with a great maul.”
While Willis has won his first England cap in the Autumn Nations Cup, Young continues to be ignored by Wales despite their break down problems. Blackett is big fan and added: “With Thomas it is a tough one. Everyone here knows he has the ability to play international rugby and if he keeps working as hard he will get selected in the end. He will captain us while Joe Launchbury is away and leads by example.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now