Dai Young has proven himself to be the intelligent, steadying influence that a fallen from grace Wasps side has needed.
Without silverware since 2008, London Wasps have seen a dramatic shift in success and stature not only within European rugby, but also within English rugby. Having lost a host of top-class, seasoned players, Wasps have suffered over the past few years both financially and with performances on the field.
Since joining as the Director of Rugby in 2011, after his time with the Cardiff Blues, Dai Young has demonstrated his tactical understanding and acumen for the game. With Wasps struggling to make their mark in the Premiership and similarly in Europe, the appeal of the club has perhaps been limited to less Internationally recognised players, yet Young has begun to build a side that is capable of challenging the countries finest.
With the likes of Brad Davis and British and Irish Lion, Stephen Jones working alongside Young, on occasions this year, Wasps have been a team with dynamism in attack, and intensity in defence. In order to reacquaint themselves with the top of the Premiership table and play host to the Munster’s and Toulon’s of this world, it’s now time for Wasps to make a further step towards consistency, but first outplay a Stade Francais side who have similarly seen brighter years.
Despite the loss of try-scoring wizard Christian Wade and Australian Ben Jacobs for much of the season, the unfortunate retirement of ex-captain Hugo Southwell and lengthy spells on the side-line for Tom Varndell, Young has shown his faith in youth. Jonah Holmes has proven his versatility and his finishing capacity a few times this season, with 23 year old Jake Cooper-Woolley really impressive in the tight, causing issues for opposing props on numerous occasions.
Excellence on the turf hasn’t just taken the form of youth. The Tongan ‘Hot-stepper’, William Helu has been a worthy fill-in for Wade, not only has he scored 9 tries in 19 appearances so far this season, he has demonstrated moments of true class out wide. (See Video)
Similarly, Haskell has had one of his best season’s in a Wasps jumper. An individual who leads from the front, Haskell is a gritty player who’s work rate is second to none. Making the hard yards, clearing vital rucks, Haskell has enabled go forward and continuity and given Simpson a platform for front foot ball. Perhaps the biggest talking point of the season, as we know, is the sublime Nathan Hughes. It was hugely disheartening for the club when Vunipola departed for Saracens, however it certainly seemed a step in the right direction for the first choice England number 8. Hughes, after missing a lot of the early season through injury, has complimented a Wasps back row with his barnstorming runs and clinical offloads. Arcing carries of the back of the scrum and direct inside lines of the 9 and 10 allows Wasps to not only get behind the defence, but also suck in key defenders around the edges of the ruck and resultantly, utilise space out wide or hit gaping holes in the midfield. So effective in contact, Hughes has been the key in so many close games this season.
Arrivals for next season will not only give Wasps more strength in depth, but an extra seasoning of experience and international pedigree. The additions of Bradley Davies, James Gaskell and Cittadini will add suitable weight and set-piece prowess to the pack. In addition to the cutting edge of Ruaridh Jackson and Rob Miller in the backline and the monstrous, tackle-breaking machine that is Alapati Leiua! (See Video)
Whether or not the outcome is favourable over the two-leg play-off with Stade, Young’s men will have a much more suitable balance between youth and know-how, pace and power. Next season could see a Top 6 finish for Wasps if they find consistency, either way, youth shall prosper.
Goode v Steyn battle
When Wasps and Stade lock horns this Sunday, you can expect an encounter that swings largely around the gameplay of the two fly half’s. Both Goode and Steyn can be relied upon for tactical expertise and are equally capable of pinning sides back into their own 22m. Steyn offers a little more with ball in hand, however defensively, Goode has the edge.
Other fiery encounters around the park will be between the second row’s. Launchbury, a fine lineout jumper and sublime in the loose up against Pape, the heavy brute, likely to take charge of some mighty rolling mauls.
The battle at number 9 will also be highly influential. Simpson is likely to threaten around the rucks with his searing pace and high-tempo style, parallel to the accurate boot and sound passing game of Dupuy.
It’s certainly tough to call. English might, or French creativity?