Paolo Odogwu returns to his more recognised role on the wing on Saturday for Wasps, but coach Lee Blackett has declared himself satisfied with how the 23-year-old fared at outside centre in a rare run of four consecutive starts at No13 following a two-try cameo off the Premiership bench in that position in November.
With former All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa absent since injury in the October 2019/20 Premiership semi-final win over Bristol, Wasps initially turned to former Springboks centre Juan de Jongh to take on the responsibility.
However, Odogwu caught the eye in a 25-minute appearance from the Wasps bench in a league loss to Gloucester and he went on to start at No13 in Premiership outings against Newcastle and Sale either side of European assignments versus Dragons and Montpellier.
With Zach Kibirige having suffered a terrible-looking concussion at Sharks last Sunday, Odogwu now reverts to the wing for this weekend’s clash versus league champions Exeter – de Jongh comes back in at No13 for his 50th Premiership appearance for the club.
Odogwu, though, has given coach Blackett plenty to chew over after his use at midfield led to an encouraging increase in the level of his involvements in games, a discovery that had more to do with injury providing the opportunity.
"There are still question marks here in terms of will he need surgery"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 29, 2020
“It was probably when we took a couple of injuries,” said Blackett, reflecting on why he opted to give Odogwu his recent extended run at No13. “Paolo has spent the last year and a bit mainly being on the wing but covering a little at 13. When you look at someone like Malakai and what he brings… if you think generally what has been our midfield you have had Jacob (Umaga) at 10 and you have got a playmaker at 12 (Jimmy Gopperth), Malakai’s game has given us great difference in the middle.
“He has given us great physicality and a ball-carrying edge, so Malakai is pretty key to the way we play. We felt the nearest person to him was Paolo to give us that physical presence at 13 in the ball carry and we feel he has done that. We feel he has done a pretty good job. There are loads of little things to keep improving but he has given us that physical presence we are looking for as a 13.
“One thing I have always said about Paolo is with the ball he is difficult to tackle but one of the things me and him have spoken about is how we can get his involvements higher as a winger. At 13 we have managed to get him more involved so we have seen him more. That has probably always been Paolo’s biggest weakness, his number of involvements with the ball because that is one of his biggest strengths.
“He has managed to get that as a 13 but yeah, it’s different defensively. I have been pretty pleased with him in terms of that. He is pretty good over the ball and to go there in back-to-back performances, I have been pretty satisfied with what he has brought. He has given us that presence we need in that 13 jersey.”
“I just had to remind him if he wants a career like Jimmy Gopperth, get yourself out of there pal"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 30, 2020
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now