Date: 23rd April 2011
Kick-off: 17:30 (BST)
The month of November brought two wins for London Wasps over Bath earlier this season and they will be hoping that this Saturday can see a similar outcome. Off field incidents have plagued Wasps’ build-up this week but they will dismiss all thought of player suspension as they face Bath in a match that could define their season. With a game spare, Bath may have felt that last week’s victory over Harlequins virtually assured them of 6th spot and with it Heineken Cup rugby, but a loss here would reel them back within the sights of ‘Quins as well as Wasps themselves.
Wasps were outstanding against Leeds last week. Incorporating a number of young players in their team, the likes of Elliot Daly (centre) and Joe Launchbury (second row) gave strong indication as to the current rude health of the Wasps academy. Injuries have been a constant parasite affecting Wasps’ fortunes this season, and long-term absentees Tom Rees and Dom Waldouck remain on the treatment table, but they will hope to start this match fielding a largely similar side to last weekend. Perhaps Leeds will feel that events such as the sin-binning of Michael Stephenson did not aid their cause last week, but they did not play like a team battling to stave off relegation and Wasps took full advantage. Youngsters bring an energy and passion to training which has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the Wasps team. It came with the caveat of arguably being too late to save their season, but the final matches of Wasps’ campaign look set to have renewed interest bestowed upon them.
A tense encounter was expected against Harlequins last week and the match duly conformed to preconceptions. Bath will feel relieved at gaining a win that could have so easily swung the other way at the death, but they had strong performances across the pitch that will inspire confidence for this weekend. The half backs, Butch James in particular, played with a calmness that resonated throughout the side while youngsters Guy Mercer, Nathan Catt and Josh Ovens formed part of a strong effort from the pack. Spirit is high after that win over Harlequins, but they must ensure they do not become complacent against this Wasps team. Coach Steve Meehan has claimed that he is “sure” that this weekend will see at least one of Lewis Moody, Simon Taylor or Luke Watson return to action, which is sure to give the squad a huge boost.
What to expect:
Dave Walder’s farewell to Adams Park last week coincided with a Wasps back line performance of extreme potency. The new centre partnership of Daly and Rikki Flutey dazzled while scrum half Joe Simpson carved gaping holes in the Leeds defence. London has been basked in glorious sunshine all week and that will suit this young Wasps side. Bath offer talented backs of their own in Nick Abendanon and Matt Carraro, but it is their pack where the clear strength lies. The youthful exuberance of Mercer and Catt added to the hardened aggression of Danny Grewcock last week, and expect Bath to target the Wasps pack. All corners have been effusive in their praise of the Wasps side last week, but the fact remains that they are still inexperienced and Bath will hope that they will succumb to their superior strength.
All eyes on:
As we near the conclusion of the season, many England fans are still awaiting the return to form of Riki Flutey. Injuries have seemingly conspired against him in what has been a slightly disappointing season for Flutey. But paired with the 18 year old Daly last week, Flutey played with renewed vigour and energy. A lack of depth behind Shontayne Hape (who incidentally doesn’t play this weekend) means that Flutey is still a likely EPS member, but coach Martin Johnson is due a reminder of his talents.
His place in the squad may be threatened by the returning Lewis Moody and Luke Watson, but Guy Mercer has been extremely impressive of late and has made a strong case for retaining the open-side jersey even after Moody’s return. Mercer is quick, aggressive and competes well at the break-down while offering good support lines in attack.
Head to Head: Joe Simpson vs Michael Claasens
Two players with differing facets to their game, but both will be of equal importance to their respective club’s chances this weekend. Last week Joe Simpson proved why he is widely thought of as the most explosive English scrum half in the game. His decisions to tap-and-go not only kept Leeds on the back front but often tended to bear fruit on the scoreboard. Claasens is an effective runner himself, but it is his leadership and strength that make him pivotal for Bath. He was brilliant against England international Danny Care last week; this week he must thwart another one.
The performance of Bath last week was a welcome present for their fans, and the potential return of Lewis Moody this weekend will provide the squad with a huge confidence boost. Wasps will see this as a match where they have little to lose, which will suit the youngsters, but this may be one step too far for this youthful side against an aggressive Bath pack. Bath to win by 8.