Wasps will be looking even more deadly come play-off time
“Had Barnes made the scrums a fair competition by ensuring a straight put-in, it would have been a better game ”
Okay, I’ll admit it, even though I am a former Wasps player I don’t make the effort to travel to watch them play. But theirs is the first result I look for after the weekend’s rugby and I always feel a little tingle of pride when the team does well, not that I’ve played any part in the club’s success since leaving.
I will admit to some disappointment at the loss of the historical London home in Sudbury and the subsequent nomadic life of the club before finally settling (I hope) in Coventry but that was how the club progressed into the professional age.
The move to Coventry has proved to be a game-changer for Wasps, who, until the move, were constantly fighting for survival on all fronts. They were rooted close to the bottom of the Premiership with threats of bankruptcy haunting them for a number of seasons but that now seems so long ago as they battle for their first Premiership title in nine years.
Last week I was asked to co-commentate on the Harlequins versus Wasps at the Stoop and was looking forward to seeing my old club competing in what used to be one of the biggest grudge matches in the London rugby calendar.
Then, there was the extra spice of seeing two of England’s Lions-selected props facing at least one of the props seeking to cement his place in the England team.
Add to that, a few of the disappointed England players not picked for the Lions with a chance to showcase what the Lions were missing and with top class referee Wayne Barnes in charge, everything looked good for a great game. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whether the end of a long season or just the bleak realisation that their Lions chances were over for another four years, barring injuries, and despite playing in front of Eddie Jones, the stars of the Wasps team (except Joe Launchbury) just didn’t turn up.
The game was dominated by mediocrity with only the eager young Quins centre Joe Marchant galvanising the crowd with a couple of electrifying breaks, proving he will be one to watch on this summer’s Argentina tour.
More disappointing for me was the total shambles of the scrums where Barnes failed to show any authority.
The Quins boys would not have helped their chances of making the Lions Test starters much good on a performance that saw endless collapses because Quins hooker Rob Buchanan just couldn’t hook the ball, despite a feed so crooked it landed in the second row!
The one time Barnes penalised the collapse, he got it wrong, with the ball going nowhere, stuck just behind Buchanan’s feet and with the scrum solid. Marler had no choice but to drop the scrum to ensure possession and Barnes penalised Wasps tighthead Phil Swainston.
After that, Barnes allowed play to continue as scrum after scrum folded in to a messy pile of bodies from where the scrum-half dug out the ball.
Although I understand Barnes wanting to keep the game flowing, the allowance of the crooked feed was the primary reason the scrums became a mess. Mainly because Buchanan had placed his feet back in a pushing position because he knew he wouldn’t have to hook the ball.
However, the pressure applied by Wasps front row prevented him from readjusting his feet to push the ball back when Quins failed to drive the scrum forward.
Had Barnes just made the scrum a fair competition by ensuring a straight put-in, as the laws state, it would no doubt have been a much better game.
It appeared to me that the only Wasps players up for the battle were Jimmy Gopperth and Dan Robson in the backs, with Launchbury, as usual, and the front row of Matt Mullan, Tommy Taylor and replacement Jake CooperWoolley outshining their illustrious opponents.
I hate to say it but after seeing Wasps play, I can understand why Saracens’ Mark McCall felt he could rest a number of players for yesterday’s game and think they still had a fair chance of winning.
Just three years since they moved into the Ricoh Stadium, it is probably too soon to expect the club to regain the heights of the golden age of Dallaglio and Co. Nevertheless, given their dominance of the Premiership and the exciting reports of open play and tries aplenty, I expected much more than they presented.
Fortunately, the semi-finals are not for two weeks so that should give Dai Young time to make sure his stars know exactly what’s expected of them.
As the Premiership begin to flex their muscles over the duration of future Lions tours, it could possibly backfire on them.
The Lions are selected from the four home unions but as this squad shows with just two Scots, you could pick a squad from just three. If the Premiership forces the issue, it may be that English players are not included for 2021 and the usual handsome compensation the Premiership receives for the use of their players is not paid.
Shambles: The scrums at the Harlequins-Wasps match last weekend featured endless collapses