THE HURT LOCKER

Pain of 2017 loss will spur us on to title says Gop­perth

Daily Express - - RUGBY UNION: PREMIERSHI­P PLAY- OFFS - By Alex Spink

WASPS 47

BRIS­TOL 24

JIMMY GOP­PERTH se­cured Wasps a Pre­mier­ship fi­nal re­match against Ex­eter then warned: “A lot of hurt goes a long way.”

Gop­perth is one of six sur­vivors from the Wasps start­ing line- up that came within 30 sec­onds of beat­ing the Chiefs in the 2017 fi­nal.

He still gri­maces at the mem­ory of the last- gasp penalty kicked by Gareth Steen­son which forced ex­tra- time and led to Ex­eter’s first title. It was a slid­ing doors mo­ment for both clubs. Ex­eter have reached ev­ery league fi­nal since and are also favourites to beat Rac­ing 92 in Satur­day’s Cham­pi­ons Cup show­piece.

This is the first fi­nal Wasps have reached since and for Gop­perth, time is run­ning out.

But the 37- year- old, who kicked 22 points against Bris­tol, said: “We un­der­stand what’s in front of us this time. In 2017, we were play­ing awe­some rugby and we had some star- stud­ded guys, which was pretty cool.

“But we prob­a­bly played our fi­nal the week be­fore. That last- ditch semi- fi­nal win against Leicester was huge and we went down to Twick­en­ham to sort of ride the wave.

“I think we’ve got enough ex­pe­ri­ence that it’s dif­fer­ent now. A lot of hurt goes a long way for a bit of mo­ti­va­tion.”

Cap­tain Joe Launch­bury tapped into that ex­pe­ri­ence as the whis­tle blew at the Ri­coh, re­mind­ing his team of 2017 and stress­ing they have won noth­ing yet.

Ex­eter, ma­chine- like in their ruth­less ef­fi­ciency, will be ex­pected to win, but hav­ing lost the past two fi­nals and led the ta­ble pretty much through­out this sea­son, all the pres­sure is on them. Key for Wasps, who have won 10 of 12 games since head coach Lee Black­ett took charge in Fe­bru­ary, will be to play with the same fun and free­dom on the big stage that they have shown since lock­down.

They fear star man Malakai Fek­i­toa will not re­cover from his groin in­jury in time to play, but in Jack Wil­lis and Dan Rob­son they have two play­ers at the top of their game.

Wil­lis caged Bris­tol at the break­down, al­low­ing Rob­son to run the show from scrum- half in front of Eng­land head coach Ed­die Jones.

“Dan needs to be right up there in the Eng­land squad, if not start­ing,” said Gop­perth.

“As for Jack, it’s scary to see how far he’s go­ing to go. He is a freak. He can lit­er­ally do the splits and jackal. If he is not Pre­mier­ship player of the year, some­thing has gone wrong.”

Pic­ture: RICHARD HEATH­COTE

JACK’S NIM­BLE Wil­lis skips through a tackle in an­other im­pres­sive dis­play for Wasps

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