Sitting third in the Aviva Premiership table, Wasps’ league season looks back on track following a tough period in the autumn where wins were hard to come by.
It is a different story regarding their European Champions Cup campaign though, where poor defence has seen them come unstuck in Pool 1 and preparing to face Ulster in Coventry on Sunday on a wing and a prayer to make the quarter-finals.
Ahead of the clash with the Irish province, Director of Rugby Dai Young said:
“It’s a huge disappointment for us to be as fragile as we are at the minute in defence. We’re still scoring tries which is a positive but we’re leaking far too many. Certainly over the last three to four games,
we’re losing the last twenty minutes which is hugely disappointing for us.
“We haven’t scored a point in the last three games in the last twenty minutes and we’ve conceded 48. We feel we’re in commanding positions, we take our foot of the pedal, allow teams to get momentum and then seem to be incapable of stopping that momentum and it’s too many easy points scored. We’ve been pretty honest within the group, it’s not good enough and it has to change.”
Wasps missed 38 tackles in the match against Harlequins, conceding twelve turnovers – not the sort of quality you expect from Premiership finalists and statistics that look set to deny them a spot in Europe’s last eight.
They need Harlequins to pick up a victory in La Rochelle on Sunday and deny their hosts a losing bonus point while Wasps need all five at the Ricoh after losing to ‘Quins last time out.
While Wasps turned their autumn run of consecutive defeats around, they will no doubt rue not having done so one game earlier, which was their Champions Cup opener, a 19-9 loss to Ulster at the Kingspan. They went on the beat Harlequins 41-10 the week after in Round 2 which was the catalyst for a run of six Premiership wins.
A loss to Saracens in their first game of 2018 ended that run, conceding five tries – as they also did last week in Europe.
They can ill-afford to take that defensive form back into the Premiership when it returns in February and scrum-half Joe Simpson reveals it prompted action this week.
“We had one of our longest meetings of the year and there were some fingers pointed, but I think that’s a good thing. We need to be calling people out, we need to be harder in defence, we need to be an abrasive team that people don’t like running into. At the moment, we’re far too soft, far too passive and people are just getting far too many yards against us.”
Simpson went on to explain that it becomes a fine balance to find a happy blend, or else a team can create a blame culture. Accountability to each other and reviewing what the team is trying to accomplish is the short term means by which the team hopefully plugs the holes.
“We’re going to throw everything we can in this match so that if there’s an opportunity for us to go through, we do manage it. It’s about us going out there, playing our brand of rugby, being abrasive and really resetting the stop-clock in missed tackles and tries conceded and trying to get out of the rut that we are in at the moment.”
Wasps kick-off against Ulster on Sunday afternoon at the Ricoh Arena at 3.15pm as Quins travel to La Rochelle at the same time.
Nick Heath, Pundit Arena