Dai Young would have best spent his time this off-season mastering the assembly of puzzles. That is if he wasn’t an expert already.
The variety of backline options now at his fingertips is going to keep the Wasps director of rugby busier than ever this season as he searches for the right combination from a deep stock of options.
Kyle Eastmond of course is the newest name in the mix. The England international was widely expected to join Sale Sharks, until Wasps announced his signing to some surprise on Saturday.
Where Eastmond fits in to a backline stacked with as much talent as Wasps have acquired over the last few months isn’t exactly clear. An inside centre, the recruitment a few months ago of Kurtley Beale appeared to suggest that the number 12 shirt was destined for the Australian international upon his recovery from the injury which ended his Super Rugby campaign with the Waratahs.
Young and Wasps will have watched the way Beale combines with Bernard Foley at both Super Rugby and Test level with their 10-12 combination and decided that’s what they want to replicate with Beale and Danny Cipriani, and who can blame them. Foley and Beale’s masterclass against England during the Rugby World Cup still lives long in the memory. After all, they were decimated.
The recruitment of Eastmond however may change that, if Wasps decide the best place for Beale is at full-back. Rob Miller initially appeared to have the inside lane for the 15 shirt following the departure of Charles Piutau to Ulster, but the temptation to somehow accommodate two internationals in Eastmond and Beale might be too great for Wasps to ignore.
Dan Robson’s outstanding performance for the England Saxons in South Africa ‘A’ will likely mean he starts ahead of Joe Simpson at scrum-half, while at fly-half Jimmy Gopperth’s first season with Wasps will be viewed as a success – capped off by his winning conversion in the Champions Cup quarter-final – but Cipriani’s return should correspond with him being first choice at number ten.
Outside centre is Elliot Daly’s berth to lose, a full-back himself of course at the start of his career but better suited to playing further infield where he can release the Wasps’ back three with his subtle range of passing. Alapati Leiua, whose season was cut short by injury, offers real power as an alternative.
That’s all before considering the wings, with Frank Halai and Christian Wade first-choice supported by Sailosi Tagicakibau and young guns Tom Howe and Josh Bassett.
Back to Eastmond, his quick feet and speed fit right in with a backline never shy of launching attacks from long-range. His size at 5ft 7in is often questioned and has arguably hindered his international ambitions, somewhat unfairly.
The benefits for Wasps are obvious, but for Eastmond after a rough few final months with Bath where he first agreed terms on a new contract before the club decided to back out, moving to a club on a mammoth upward curve like Wasps must feel like perfect timing.
How he fits into the puzzle isn’t yet clear. Don’t expect Young to be complaining however about trying to include another outstanding addition, somehow, into his side.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena