London Wasps are a side who have had real success throughout their long history, with 6 Premiership titles and 2 Heineken Cup titles lined up in their trophy cabinet, with the likes of Lewsey, Betsen, Ibanez, Sackey and Dallagio but to name a few in this side that seemed unstoppable at the peak of their powers. However, since these players have moved on, Wasps have slid down from the upper echelons of the table to gritty relegation scraps. The scrap with Newcastle in the 2011/12 season to survive the drop showed the true character of a young side determined to rise to where they ought to be. But what does this new season hold for Wasps and what do they have to fix to get there?
Let’s start with the positives, Wasps have a monumental depth of young English talent at their disposal, which is sure to flourish in the coming seasons. This is a testament to the philosophy of DoR Dai Young, who wants to adopt a similar structure to that of when Wasps were in their glory days. Over the summer, he has brought in several young English players to bolster the depth of the squad, with Championship stars Josh Bassett, Guy Thompson and Nathan Hughes bringing pace and power to the squad, whilst Young has brought in experienced heads Andy Goode, Matt Mullen and Esteban Lodaza to give some leadership to a young but exciting side.
Wasps already have plenty of exciting young talent. British Lion Christian Wade will be heavily marked this year, as he is bound to add to his tally of 18 tries last year: his electric acceleration and dancing feet regularly causing havoc for defenders everywhere. Elliot Daly is another who will flourish with his all round game: his ability to beat his marker regularly and his howitzer boot will add another dimension to this Wasps attack. Tom Lindsay is one who burst onto the season late on in the season with strong carrying performances, particularly against Northampton, where his impact from the bench was immense. The experienced players in this side must act as leaders: particularly Andrea Masi with his strong carrying and handling; Tom Varndell with his poaching ability up there as one of the best in the League; Andy Goode with his astute tactical kicking; and Ashley Johnson and James Haskell with their prowess around the breakdown and close quarters.
So, we know that Wasps have great talent at their disposal, but where are their areas of strength? Firstly, they have the ability to deliver quick ball to ignite this flamboyant back line, with scrum half Joe Simpson’s electric pace and quick service proving a big asset to the side. They also have a strong pool of players in the Second Row, with Joe Launchbury, Kearnan Myall, Tom Palmer, James Cannon and Esteban Lodaza providing big power in the engine room, although the loss of line-out guru Marco Wentzel will hit them hard. The defense of the side is also improving with every game; a defining moment for me was seeing Tom Varndell uncharacteristically being yellow carded for dumping tackling Bath’s Nick Abendannon (previously unheard of!). The back row is yet another strong area for Wasps, with Johnson, Haskell, Jones, Poff, Thompson and Hughes bringing different aspects to create a dynamic back row.
For me though, the main area of strength for Wasps comes in their abundance of speed. Wade, Varndell and Daly all have ability to create sparkling tries when they are faced with a titanic wall of defenders in front of them. Last season in the Premiership, Wasps scored 47 tries, and it is testament to Varndell and Wade that they scored 26 of the 47 between them, although this is something the Black and Gold army cannot become over reliant on. New boy Josh Bassett, who was the top try scorer in the RFU Championship in 2011/12 and was third in the statistics in 2012/13 should provide more tries when he is given the game time.
This all sounds well and good, but of course every side has their weaknesses, and Wasps are no exception to this. In my opinion, the front row is probably the least experienced area of the squad, and this is not helped by the retirement of Tim Payne. However, Matt Mullen’s arrival will see him become a cornerstone of the pack and his strong scrumagging will add to the power of the front row. Will Taylor will also develop into a fine tighthead prop this season, and will build on the personal success of this past season. Another set piece area needing work is the defence of the driving maul. There are too many times in the past season where the line-out has become exploited by teams with bigger forwards packs. This was seen against Northampton, where three men were sent to the bin for sacking the maul by referee David Rose.
The main area that needs improvement is the consistency in performances, as the lack of consistency really hurt Wasps last season. They recovered from an average start to go nine games unbeaten in all competitions and rose to third in the table. This period was marked by confidence boasting wins against London Welsh, and big wins against Bath, Gloucester, Leicester and Harlequins. However, this was to be the last of the success, as poor performances resulted in several narrow losses, and saw them finish in eight. This consistency has to be sorted out, and Wasps need to control the game for larger periods of the game, instead of two or three small periods where tries and points flooded in. If this is sorted, then Wasps will soar back up the table to the highs of their peers.
So what’s a realistic goal for the season? I think to finish 6th and qualify for the Heineken Cup, as this will get the powerhouses of European rugby visiting Adams Park and this would bring valuable experience for these youngsters. If this happens, then this could be the start of a real glory period for Wasps Rugby.