Wasps are in a hole, let’s make no bones about it, but there’s no better time to press the reset button than New Year and I’m convinced they’ll still finish in the top four.
You can’t get away from the fact that they’ve won one of their last 13 games and confidence is clearly low on the back of that but they’ve been missing the quality and leadership of Joe Launchbury, Jimmy Gopperth, Dan Robson, Tommy Taylor and Nathan Hughes for most of that period.
Those players have been taken out of the spine of the team as well. It’ll make a huge difference when they’re all back fit and they’re only three points off the top four, despite having been on such a horrendous run of form.
You’ve got to feel a bit for Lima Sopoaga at the moment as well. A lot is expected of him, and rightly so, because he’s come with a big reputation and is on a big salary but any fly half would struggle without his two first choice scrum halves inside him and when the experience and quality of Gopperth isn’t there outside him.
As a number 10, you’re always either hero or zero and I know that better than most. As well as not having the other first choice players around him, he’s a human being and bringing his family to a new country, as well as adjusting to a new league, isn’t easy.
He’ll want to fix everything himself and will be forcing it a bit too but he can’t take all the pressure on his own shoulders. He’s used to managing games, as well as doing the flair stuff, and needs to go back to basics just as everyone else does.
I’d love to see a lot more of Robson inside him and Juan de Jongh and Elliot Daly outside him and I’ve no doubt he’ll prove his worth sooner rather than later.
Dai Young did make a conscious decision to reduce his squad size last season and he wouldn’t have foreseen the number of injuries he’s had to deal with when he made that call but the salary cap presents a complex problem to Directors of Rugby.
Wasps spend right up to the limit but don’t go over it and the club’s rapid improvement over the past two or three years has meant that a lot of players have risen in value and rightly demanded more money.
That has led to players such as Ross Neal, Michael le Bourgeois and Ben Morris being recruited from the Championship as back-ups and then they’ve become first team players in their first season in the top flight because of the injury situation.
Nathan Hughes has reportedly been offered £500k a year by Bristol and Wasps just can’t compete with that every time one of their stars comes to the end of their contract. They have paid their top players more and Dai has had to cut the size of his squad as a result.
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The combination of a smaller squad size and both the number and quality of players they’ve had out injuries has been the major factor behind the recent downturn in results.
Having said all that, the players that are out on the field are making too many unforced errors at the moment. They’re trying to force things in a desperation to get out of the bad run of form that they’re in.
I think they’ve got to go back to basics. It’s not fancy offloads and round the back passes that’s going to get them back into the play-off places in the league and up to where they’ve become accustomed to being in recent years.
Wasps’ attacking game has been one of the best, if not the best in the Premiership, in the past couple of seasons but they’ve only scored 16 tries in their last 10 games, so it isn’t just the defence that’s been an issue.
It sounds simple in print and it obviously isn’t but they need to run harder and straighter and make defences work a bit harder than they’re having to at the minute, as well as cutting out the individual errors.
They’re losing the physical confrontation at present and getting back to winning that will go a long way towards turning their fortunes around.
You can’t say Wasps are too good to go down because that’s not true of anyone, especially in a season where many have suggested Sale as relegation candidates and they win away at third-placed Gloucester and boast names like Faf de Klerk and Chris Ashton on their team sheet!
However, I’m still confident that they’ll be nowhere near that end of the table come May and will be make the top four again for the fourth straight season.
The pressure is ramping up and next week’s game at home to Northampton is huge but a week is a long time in sport. They’re in a hole but they could well be back in the top four next week with just one victory in this toughest Premiership season ever to call.
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