Daly tells injury-hit Wasps to beware Piutau
When Elliot Daly reveals he has been covering fly-half for Wasps, having not played there since his school days, it would appear to be a demonstration of just how bare the cupboards are in Coventry – until you remember he made his debut months before finishing his A-levels.
As a result, Daly accentuates the positives of Wasps’ injury crisis – the worst he has seen since the one which accelerated his emergence in the first team – but there can be little doubting that Dai Young’s side have indeed been “kicked in the nuts” as the Welshman put it, with a five-day turnaround before tonight’s Champions Cup opener with Ulster.
Young does at least welcome back Nathan Hughes and Jimmy Gopperth but Friday-night trips to the Kingspan Stadium, as the renamed Ravenhill is now known, are about as daunting as away days at Exeter or Saracens, and Wasps have been heavily beaten on both of those grounds recently – going down 38-19 at Allianz Park last Sunday.
Daly, for his part, has not tasted victory since helping the British & Irish Lions to a second Test victory against the All Blacks in Wellington – he sat out Wasps’ first two Premiership encounters, both wins, having played 36 matches last season, returning for the four subsequent defeats.
It seems unjust to accuse Daly of a post-Lions hangover, however, considering he has been afforded scant opportunity to showcase his running talents. “I probably haven’t got my hands on the ball as much as I’d have wanted to so far,” he says. “It has been those type of games where we have scored a couple of quick tries and then conceded a few and we’ve not had as much possession as we would have liked.”
Gopperth’s timely return means the prospect of Daly, pictured right, running out at fly-half is diminished but at Saracens last Sunday he was standing by if Rob Miller were to add to Young’s injury woes. “I was very keen for it though,” says Daly. Instead he continues at outside centre where he can expect to be kept busy by the Ulster full-back Charles Piutau, who dazzled during his 2015-16 season at Wasps. In that campaign Wasps reached the Champions Cup semifinals, thanks in no small part to Piutau’s last-gasp try in the quarter-final win against Exeter, and the New Zealander is in form – as his role in Jacob Stockdale’s stunning try against Connacht last weekend would testify.
“He is a great guy – someone you just pass the ball to and he does something special,” says Daly. “It would be nice if he was on our side. He is a quality player, – the unpredictability of him – anything is on at any time. He is definitely up there [as one of the best finishers in the world].” Considering they took Exeter to extra time in last season’s Premiership final it would be a stretch to say that Wasps did not recover from the comprehensive Champions Cup quarter-final defeat by Leinster last season but there can be little doubting it resonated. That day Wasps’ all-star attack was taken apart by Leinster’s muscle and you sense Young has slightly tightened the reins this season. From the outside it would appear that amid their injury problems Wasps are struggling to find the balance between pragmatism and panache but Daly disagrees. “We probably should have kicked a little bit more [at Saracens] and put them under pressure, instead we played a bit too much in our own half, which we probably did in the Leinster game as well,” he says. “There probably are things you can take from both games, but we’re looking at us this weekend and what we can do as a squad to get the win.”