Characterised by inconsistency and hampered by incessant injuries, it has looked ever more inevitable that this season would be another campaign consigned to Wasps’ increasing list of recent disappointments. Of course they still retain hope of achieving European rugby next season, but their chances are slim.
Wasps were always the team to grow as the season progressed; the team who would dismantle tiring sides with a mixture of brutal forwards and a ruthless backline. A Spring-time Wasps was as relentless a side that has been seen in the professional era. However these facets have slowly drifted away from this team’s grasp. Agonizingly, they have fallen from their place at the top of the European elite.
But amidst disappointment lies hope. And hope is something that Wasps have had precious little of in recent years. Supremely talented youngsters are not unfamiliar to the Wasps academy of late – see Danny Cipriani and current first XV players Dom Waldouck and Joe Simpson – but there is a mixture of hope and anticipation that this latest crop of talent will be a match not only in talent, but, more importantly, depth. Last weekend against Leeds, they confirmed the club’s suspicions.
Leeds hardly represented an easy challenge. Fighting for Premiership survival and fresh from a morale-boosting victory over Newcastle, Neil Back’s side would have been hopeful, if not confident, of turning over a youthful Wasps team lacking in experience. Ravaged by injuries and mindful of next season, Wasps coach Leon Holden turned to his youngsters, some of whom are still at school.
Elliot Daly and Jack Wallace took places in the backline, Tom Lindsay and Sam Jones came into the pack and Billy Vunipola and Jonah Holmes were selected on the bench. Combined, Daly and Wallace have barely accumulated enough years to match veteran Simon Shaw’s total, who took his place in the second row next to the 20 year old lock Joe Launchbury.
What followed would not have been expected by even the wise old head of Shaw himself. Wasps were superb, and were shown the way by the strong performances of these youngsters, who all made valuable contributions in a 51-18 victory.
Elliot Daly in the centre showed incisiveness and a huge presence in defence belying his frame. Indeed, two Daly tackles were directly responsible for tries after the impact forced knock-ons on both occasions. If Daly’s first tackle on Leeds’ Luther Burrell was powerful, then his hit on England hooker Steve Thompson was nothing short of sensational.
Joe Launchbury has quickly made himself known to the Adams Park faithful and he impressed again with some strong ball carrying and tackling. Wasps fans may well be quietly hoping that here they have found a long-term replacement for Simon Shaw. Wallace and Jones performed commendably while Holmes and Vunipola later arrived from the bench, the latter marking an impressive impact with a try.
With Christian Wade missing out with a leg strain, but playing with similar endeavour in his debut only a week previous, there is still more to come from these youngsters. Wasps do not possess the finances of the likes of Bath and Leicester, and they will have to seek strength through other means. It seems that last week the academy provided a timely reminder of its worth.
By Tom James