Five games in, a blistering start with wins over Saracens at Twickenham and Leicester at home, and then three defeats on the bounce. Wasps began the season with so much promise, but reverse scorelines against Sale, Exeter and Newcastle mean that early season momentum has disappeared. So what better way to put their recent trials behind them than by heading down to a Michelin star restaurant for the day?
Except, for a handful of Wasps players including Chris Bell, Ben Broster, Nicky Robinson and Joe Worsley, they would not be dining, but cooking themselves. Eight versions of Beef Wellington later along with some excellent desserts, it was time to talk about the serious stuff. It had been less than 24 hours since the final whistle had blown at Kingston Park, leaving the result, and especially the areas where Wasps went wrong, still fresh in the mind.
“We keep giving teams the chance for an easy exit, putting them under pressure and then conceding needless penalties” said Bell. “Given that we didn’t even have a head coach in June, not many people would have expected us to win those first two games (against Saracens and Leicester). We haven’t matched that level of performance in the last three matches, so that’s what we need to work on. The focus this week will be on the basics, because without those pillars we will struggle.”
Up at the coalface, Ben Broster, perhaps most famous this season for his audacious chip against Saracens at Twickenham, stated how the front-row were not happy overall with their performances thus far. “We started well against Leicester, and managed to exorcise some demons against Newcastle, but otherwise we’ve given away too many similar penalties such as dropping our bind. Our discipline in general let us down against Newcastle, it’s always going to be physical up there, and their game plan isn’t fancy. They try to suck penalties out of you so that Gopperth can get points on the board, and he rarely misses, and that was our undoing. If we can cut these penalties out this weekend against Bath, then we’ll go well.”
Arguably no one is benefiting more from the appointment of Dai Young as Director of Rugby than Broster, with the former Wales and Lions tighthead offering plenty of advice. “He’s brought a totally different focus to the club. Our scrum hasn’t been great in years previous, but he’s changing all that. He operates with a lot of common sense and is very methodical, but at the same time leaves you in no doubt as to where you stand with him.”
There have been plenty of new arrivals at Adams Park over the summer, including Robinson, Marco Wentzel, Jonathan Poff and Steve Thompson. For Bell, the former Leeds and Sale man was keen to stress how much he was enjoying his rugby now in the black and gold of Wasps. “I had a difficult season at Sale with injuries and contractual disputes in 09/10, and I was unhappy with the conduct of certain members of the club towards me. When the option of coming down to Wasps came along, as opposed to heading abroad given that I’ve got a young family, it all fitted together nicely.” The outside centre also stated how much he was enjoying playing with flyers Tom Varndell and Christian Wade outside, rating them amongst the quickest wingers he’s played inside of along with Dan Luger and Iain Balshaw.
As for Robinson, it seems far from a coincidence that the last three matches Wasps have lost, he has not been present. Hamstring and calf twinges on both legs means he has been forced to watch from the sidelines, but against Saracens and Leicester he seemed to be at the heart of all things good. The former Cherry & Whites man already has his eye on the Boxing Day trip to Kingsholm to face The Shed, but for now is relishing being at Wasps. “There’s plenty of great guys around me in the squad with Joe Simpson, Riki Flutey, Bell and some youngsters coming through, including Elliot Daly who looks like a very prospect.” Wasps potential is not in doubt, but they’ll be hoping to get the mix right this weekend against Bath.
by Ben Coles
Photos: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images and Richard Lane Photography