Wasps managed a third-place finish in last year’s Premiership but they were well beaten in their semi-final after a season ravaged by injury and with questions over the happiness of the players, with rumoured delayed salary payments and frustration over their training facilities. Fast forward to this season and with over a dozen new faces in, a similar number out, plus two new coaching appointments, the focus for captain Joe Launchbury is firmly on what happens on the pitch.
Launchbury told RugbyPass, “Our strength over the last few years has been our attack. Defences are starting to understand how we play and we can’t keep expecting our attack to get us out of situations. We’re trying to have a more rounded team play to what we try and do. If you look at the talent we have in our pack, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t on our day, if needs must, whether it’s weather, or whether it’s the way the game pans out, that we as the forwards can’t take the game by the scruff of the neck and become quite dominant. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.”
Launchbury admits, “Obviously defence is an area for us to step up in. We expend a lot of energy when we’re attacking, we play with such a free, open style which is extremely exciting to watch. But we need to have the same excitement and energy when we turn the ball over, to try and get that ball back. Ultimately when some of our guys in the back line get that ball with some space, we’re causing teams lots of problems. We need to have a defence which goes and wins that ball back for us.”
Having played in the last two of England’s Tests in South Africa, it’s a huge year for the 54-times capped lock given the competition in the second row.
Speaking about Eddie Jones’ recent pre-season training weekend, Launchbury said, “Going into camp, there were lots of new faces. I think there were eight second rows there and another two or three who were either rested or injured, not that I was counting! With twelve months to go there’s certainly competition in that place and that’s exciting for me. I want to continually try and prove myself every year and prove that I deserve to play at that level and as we all say, the old cliché, you’ve got to play well here. In a World Cup year there’s nothing more important than that. You get an opportunity here every week for your club to go out and show what you can do and hopefully I’ll hit the ground running.”
When asked if the players feel a need to protect head coach Eddie Jones given the criticism he has faced following five Test losses in a row in recent months, Launchbury agrees, “There’s definitely an element of that. We know how good we can be, we’ve shown in patches how good we can be. The frustrating thing for us is not finishing the job. I think if we’d have gone over there in the summer and won the Test series quite easily like we could have done, I think that would have answered a lot of questions and a lot of critics.
“We don’t feel we’re that far off. I think Eddie’s been brilliant since he’s come in and I don’t think that’s changed. I think a couple of results, that’s professional sport – any team in the world never has dominance for years on end. Winning twenty-odd games in a row is fantastic but it’s probably unsustainable in terms of the longevity of winning games like that. There’s always going to be a period of a slump, but the real test is now and we’re sitting twelve months out and it’s exciting and it’s up to us to now go and win games.”
Meanwhile having suffered a knee injury and faced some issues with a disc in his neck last season, Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor is looking forward to the start of this season fully fit. He spoke to RugbyPass this week and began by talking about Andy Titterell’s step up to his role as forwards coach.
Taylor said, “He always has a few ideas, that’s what good about Tits. He’s very technical and very detailed which is really good. You can talk things through with him. He’s involving the lads which we’re trying to do a bit more so the lads have a bit more impact in training and in meetings, which is good this year. It’s started really well.”
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Video: Wasps hooker Tommy Taylor on his comeback
Wasps scored 79 tries in the league last season, the second highest in the league, but their forward pack came under fire at times for a lack of consistency at set piece. While the side’s electrifying back line was papering over the cracks by crossing the whitewash, Taylor says it’s time for the forwards to start stepping up.
Taylor said, “As a forward, especially as a hooker, set piece is what we get judged on. We were low down in the table, if you look at the stats from last year. That’s something that we’ve focused on and something that we’re going to aim to get better this year. But it’s hard, you look at the packs in the Premiership and you can have all the goodwill in the world in pre-season and you might start the season badly. So it’s about being realistic in how we train. I think we’ve put some good things in place so far and as a pack we want to make a few more headlines that we have in the past. Obviously, people think of Wasps and we’ve got an unbelievable back line but hopefully this year, as a pack we can push ourselves to the front.”
Having been out of the England picture due to injury, Taylor is keen to perform well for club and hope the call to country might follow. He told RugbyPass, “You’re out of the game for almost a year and everything goes quiet which is understandable. For me it’s just getting back on the pitch and getting some game time. How can I help the team out in any way possible? This year, the team ethic’s there, it’s more about the team than the individuals. There’s something there that we’ve felt in pre-season and in Portugal. We’re really one together and that’s what we’ve got to be this year. The team comes first.”
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