Wasps will be look­ing even more deadly come play-off time

The Rugby Paper - - News -

“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.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Sham­bles: The scrums at the Har­lequins-Wasps match last week­end fea­tured end­less col­lapses

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