Jimmy Gopperth is backing Wasps teammate Jacob Umaga to avoid the defensive traps that will be set for one of the outstanding young English rugby talents when the Gallagher Premiership returns next week. Umaga, the son of Mike, the former Samoa international and rugby league player, and the nephew of Tana, the ex-All Blacks captain, was a product of the Leicester Tigers academy before moving to Wasps.
An England U20 international, he was called into Eddie Jones’s Six Nations squad in January only to be brought down to earth by the head coach, who informed the 22-year-old he possessed the body of a used car that wouldn’t get sold.
That was classic Jones, challenging a youngster to prove him wrong and Umaga responded so well he wore the Wasps No10 jersey for nine successive matches, including the three Premiership wins that took them up to fifth and just two points behind Northampton, the team they meet a week on Sunday when their season restarts, quickly followed by games against Worcester and Sale.
Lee Blackett, who took over as Wasps head coach from Dai Young in February, opted to redeploy All Black No10 Lima Sopoaga to full back to accommodate Umaga in a move that would become familiar to fans of Beauden Barrett when the Blues Super Rugby season started in New Zealand. Like the Blues, the decision gave the team two play makers while outside the precocious Umaga were Gopperth at inside centre and All Black Malakai Fekitoa.
That gave Umaga three outstanding talents to lean on when times get tough and according to Gopperth, that testing period is about to get even more challenging.
As Wasps prepare for that crucial game with Northampton – one of seven games in 28 days – Gopperth used his own experience to explain the task Umaga now faces with opposition defence coaches having had four months of lockdown to study the outside half’s game.
Gopperth told RugbyPass: “It always happens and I was the same. I ran riot on my first season of Super Rugby and the next one I was getting banged right, left and centre.
“They do look at guys but Jacob is a really good footballer with a good head on his shoulders and with the experience around him I think he will continue to blossom and do what he does best, which is enjoy himself. When he does that, he plays really well and that’s the main thing for him.
“We have great games against Northampton and everyone at the club is buzzing to get back out there. As players we have to be physically and mentally ready to go and that’s not just matches. We may have to play and then have to be training with just one day break to help prepare the guys who are going to be playing in the next one.
“It will be tough for the whole squad to stay focused and that is what we have to do and with seven games in 28 days we have to be right on it.
“Lee gave us a talk about it and said it was all hands on deck and it is all about putting the team first. We were in great form before the break and nothing has changed for us – we have just had a break and now we are back with the same focus and excitement about what we are trying to achieve.
“We have tweaked things a little which is exciting. We had some great momentum before Covid hit but that’s life and we have nine games to put ourselves in a good situation.”
Gloucester head coach George Skivington has dismissed questions about his departure from London Irish as he prepares to lead a new era at Kingsholmhttps://t.co/KWRn0ZW8eX
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2020
With many of the Premiership squads now bolstered by new signings, there is even more work to do off the pitch to identify threats that did not exist before.
Gopperth added: “I haven’t faced this before and it’s like having a transfer window – it’s bizarre! It will feel like a different season and a mini-competition.
“We will get to the end of nine games and say ‘that was a quick season’. It has been a long time since we played so it does feel like a new season.”
Game on. https://t.co/26Sebj0qyk
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2020
Gopperth has been watching his fellow Kiwis get the rugby world back turning with the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition and believes the Premiership needs to show the same ability to adapt quickly to the refereeing of the offside line and entry to the ruck which caused so many penalties in the early games in New Zealand.
“The offside line is the big one and that comes down to your discipline and they are looking at the tackle entry,” he said.
“I think it will suit us because we have some unbelievable jackalers like Thomas Young and Jack Willis who get over the ball so quickly. Hopefully, it will work to us and it will come down to who adapts best.
“It was a nightmare in the first couple of rounds of Super Rugby but then they all go the hang of it.”
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