THE HURT LOCKER
Pain of 2017 loss will spur us on to title says Gopperth
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.”
JACK’S NIMBLE Willis skips through a tackle in another impressive display for Wasps