The Dorset Drinker
- Jan 27, 2004
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Watching Englandâ€™s Under 20 side at the recent Junior World Cup in Italy I was truck not just by how talented their team looked and how impressive their pack was but more so by how their most impressive players where from one team, Wasps. This struck me not because Wasps are currently successful and dominating their League and European competition as they were between 2002 and 2008 but because they have just finished one of their worst seasons in recent memory finishing 9th in the Aviva Premiership and only winning 9 of their 22 league games. Admittedly injuries played a large part in their struggles this season, and combined with Andy Powellâ€™s controversial â€œincidentâ€ in a bar and the loss of their Director of Rugby Tony Hanks to the 2010/11 season was an entirely miserable one in High Wycombe.
Their search for a new Director of Rugby was hardly a public relations triumph for Wasps either with everybody who can read seemingly aware of their desire to employ former Cardiff Blues supremo Dai Young before Cardiff Blues had received any kind of formal approach. The saga may yet result in the Blues taking legal action against Wasps. From the outside their would appear to be very little difference between Cardiff Blues and London Wasps, both had poor seasons after failing to match their fans expectations and their previous high standards, both have exciting International laden back lines who donâ€™t get enough ball (the Blues managed just 6 bonus points last year and Wasps a lowly 5) and both teams have struggled in the same area, the front row. Both teams also have a lot of talent in the back row with exciting youngsters challenging the teamâ€™s old hands for game time. The major difference between the two teams, as I outlined previously is that Wasps currently have 5 players playing on one of the most competitive and professional Under 20â€™s teams in world rugby and while Cardiff Blues supplied 8 players for their national team Walesâ€™ Under 20â€™s side was thrashed 92-0 in their second group game of 2011 Junior World Cup and finished 7th after losing to Fiji. Waspsâ€™ 5 U20 Internationalâ€™s all have experience of first team rugby whereas only half of the Blues 8 have even made the bench for their regional side.
Probably the brightest young star currently at Wasps is 18 year old Centre Elliot Daly. At his tender age Daly has not only represented England at U18 level (9 times) but also U20 level and captained the Wasps â€˜Aâ€™ team. In only his second game for Englandâ€™s U20 side in February of this year he scored a hat- trick inside 30 minutes and another try later in the game, he followed this performance up with another hat- trick against Scotland a few weeks later.
One of the most exciting players in Wasps senior squad at the moment is England U20 winger and England sevens Representative Christian Wade. Wade recently topped the try scoring chart at the Junior World Cup held in Italy, notching 6 in just 5 games, including a hat- trick against Scotland and the first in the Final after just 6 minutes. Wade is reminiscent of England legend Jason Robinson with his low centre of gravity, exceptional acceleration and his phenomenal core strength which he displayed when ran over the top of South African Fullback Jaco Taute to score the winning try in Englandâ€™s final group game. Despite his diminutive stature Wade is a strong defender and his blistering pace allows to him to offer attackers the outside and then push them into touch or back inside toward covering defenders. Wade has been involved with Wasps senior side in-between his stints with the England sevens squad for the last couple of seasons, but his first start came in April of this year against London Irish, he created their second try in a 25-12 defeat and Wade scored Wasps only try in their final game of the season, a 21-8 loss in Exeter.
Another Wasps product who shone at this yearâ€™s Junior World Cup is Joe Launchbury, Launchbury scored 2 tries on his debut for England U18 against Japan and was awarded man of the match in just his third appearance for the U20â€™s when England beat their Irish counterparts 41-15 at Athlone in March if this year. As if that wasnâ€™t enough to prove the young Lock and Back Rowerâ€™s talent he also scored on his debut for Wasps when he came off the bench in Abu Dhabi as Wasps lost 38-13 to Harlequins in this yearâ€™s LV Cup. By the end of the season Launchbury had played 7 times, including a full 80 minutes away at Welford Road in his Aviva Premiership debut.
The wordâ€™s Jack Wallace and natural talent seem to go hand in hand, he only started playing rugby 7 years ago and already the Fullback has lead the South West U16 side and represented England at U16, U18 and U20 levels. Wallace is a very gifted athlete and set the National record for 400 metres with a time of 50.1 seconds. He made his senior debut for Wasps in 2009 against Gloucester where he was the victim of a rather â€œover exuberantâ€ tackle from Cherry and Whites Fullback Olly Morgan. With Mark Van Gisbergen moving to France and Josh Lewsey once again retiring the way appears clear for Wallace to make the number 15 shirt his own.
Sam Jones was another member of the England U20 squad in Italy, the 19 year old Flanker and Number 8 made his first start in Abu Dhabi in the same game as Joe Launchberry, although Jones had previously appeared against Newport Gwent Dragons and Harlequins in the Heineken Cup. Depending on how many forwards Wasps lose to the full England squad during the World Cup Jones could possibly start at 6 during the early part of next season.
Number 8 is a position where Wasps do not want for talented youngsters; Billy Vunipola is just 18 but has already been capped at U20 level. The Sydney born son of former Tongan International hooker Feâ€™ao Vunipola was another who made his Wasps debut and as youâ€™d expect from a back rower with Pacific Island heritage he is a destructive ball carrier. Standing 6 feet 2 inches and tipping the scales at 19 stone 11 pounds or 126 kgs Vunipola may struggle with injuries in the future but he will surely be a valuable â€œimpactâ€ player coming off the bench, just as he did when he scored his first Wasps try against Leeds in April this year.
Among Wasps raft of young talent are a few players who did not make the England U20 World Cup squad, Jonah Holmes is an 18 year old scrum half who has already been capped by England U2Oâ€™s and will surely be challenging the talented 22 year old Joe Simpson soon. Another young scrum half on Wasps books is 21 year old Charlie Davies who they signed from Top 14 club Stade Francais, a former England U20 player Davies made his Wasps debut last September. Mark Atkinson is a promising 10/12 who Wasps will be looking to as injury cover ay a position where they have suffered more than their fair share of injuries. Tom Lindsay is another promising English player who is currently a member of the England Saxons squad, weighing in at an impressive 19 stone and 9 pounds (125 kgs) Lindsay is certainly an impressive physical presence who can play at either Hooker or Prop. Finally Will Matthews could be yet another promising back rower in Wasps future, the 26 year old is a very athletic specimen who made his debut against Exeter in the LV Cup last November, however he has suffered a number of injuries and in May it was announced that Matthews would be taking time away from Rugby as a result of a neck injury.
The fresh approach of new Director of Rugby combined with Wasps new signings including hooker Steve Thompson, Open Side Flanker Jonathan Poff and Fly Halves Ryan Davis and Nicky Robinson provide me with a lot of optimism for Wasps in the coming season. While their youngsters may take a season or two to adapt to playing senior Rugby week in and week out with the eventual return from injury of captain Tom Rees and Centreâ€™s Riki Flutey and Dominic Waldouck Wasps form of old will surely return sooner rather than later.
Blog by @Buck_Mitchell