On Saturday Wasps managed a record win against Saracens, beating them 23-64. A margin of 41 points. In the joy and celebrations it has been said that no-one could have predicted that. To some degree I agree, but part of me would like to suggest that some of us knew it was possible. Lets look back a few weeks.
A Disappointing Loss
On the 2nd of January we played Sale Sharks in a howling gale, with rain beating down on us and we lost. We fumbled the ball, we slipped off tackles, we kicked to try to win territory, and ultimately we lost. At the time I said that this was down to the fact that our natural game was always going to suffer on soft pitches, in the rain. That Wasps perform best on a hard surface, with a dry ball.
Specifically I said “The Return is not until the end of March. The weather is likely to be better, injured players are likely to be back in the team, the ground is likely to be harder and better suited to running. I predict a very different result then”
“Send us to France, especially the south where the weather is better and the pitch more suited to our natural game and you will be amazed what we can do.”
A Record Win Against Saracens
It seems that going to the South of France was not necessary, though we came damn close against Toulon. All we needed was to have a few of our injured players back, and play on a decent surface in the dry. Just like we did at Allianz Park against the league leaders, and favourites for the European Champions Cup Saracens.
Now it could be said that it was just one of those days when everything works out well. When Lady luck plays into your hands, and when the ball just seems to go where you want it. But I do not believe that for one second, this record win against Saracens was engineered by the coaches. It was no fluke.
When we last payed Saracens, it was at home, on our own hybrid pitch. A surface that by it’s design is closer to natural grass than the fully artificial surface at Allianz Park. That makes it more susceptible to the weather. Excess rain will soften the root mass, and however much drainage you try to ensure is present you will and up with less purchase. Synthetic tuerf does not suffer this way. It retains its structure regardless of the weather in the run up to the match. It gives heavy strike runners like Hughes, Johnson, and the revelation that is Siale Piutau exactly the surface they need to generate real traction and drive forwards. Not only that but it allows the fast evasive runners like Daly, Wade, and Charles Piutau to get up to speed quickly, to have a secure platform for evasive side steps and genuine pace.
Look at Wade’s break for the first try. Robson chips the ball forwards from the back of a scrum and Wade races down the touchline outpacing every single Saracens player. He slows slightly to pick up the ball, and despite the attentions of both Rhodes and Bosch manages to gain a few extra metres before going down on the five metre line. Wasps take advantage of the fact that his run has drawn the defending line closer and get the ball down the line quickly for Charles Piutau to score. Would this have been possible on grass? Probably not in the rain. Not only would it have been harder for Wade to get up to speed, but it would have been unlikely he’d be able to take the ball in on the run, and then the attentions of Rhodes would likely have stopped him in his tracks.
If you think Wade making a few metres in the contact was impressive then we need to look at the build up to Hughes’s try to see exactly what a good surface can do for a solid, hard running back row. Myall has crashed over the gainline and taken the ball into contact. Thomas Young steps into the ruck to prevent the defence driving over the ball, sees a gap and reaches down with his back hand , picks the ball and run direct for the line. In the process he bounces both Vunisa and Du Plessis. He sets the tone for Johnson to drive over him and gain even more metres, and then Robson slings the ball out for a speeding Hughes to burst over the line for yet another score.
Thomas Young has been a real gem. He started the season as an anonymous third choice back rower, and is now emulating George Smith in a way that has lead many to ask whether he’s Welsh of English registered. England currently have no “Jackal”, but at the moment Wasps have two of the best. One with the experience and wiliness of years, and one with the fire and enthusiasm of youth.
It’s hard to isolate any one thing that Wasps did in order to win so conclusively, they did so much right. The rucked hard when it mattered, the slowed the ball down when the opposition had it. The didn’t commit defenders unnecessarily, they ran hard and fast onto the ball to hit the gain line at speed. The ran beautiful support lines, and they believed in themselves. Hughes did exactly the same as Young for the last try, but he did it inside our 10m line and made well over 20m before offloading to Robson who had made a huge amount of ground in order to be in exactly the right place for the offload. Any one of them could have been Man of the Match. Reider dominating the defending champions in his second ever Premiership game. Rowlands making his debut for the first team and showing that we didn’t miss Haskell. Robson showing he is Simmo’s equal. Gopperth staking a claim to be the form 10 in the Premiership. Smith showing he is still World Class. McIntyre dominating one of the most feared front rows in the Premiership and then ripping the ball out of the breakdown like an international back rower. Daly nailing a 57m penalty. Each and every player was immense, and played as part of a team.
Wasps are definitely the team of the moment. They are managing to play a fast paced, running game that is beautiful to watch. They are finding the form they haven’t had since the glory days of ten years ago. They are emulating the best teams in the Southern Hemisphere, and it is giving them some amazing wins. If the weather stays fine, and the natural grass starts to harden up to the level of Sarries’ artificial pitch then maybe the record win against Saracens will not be the only one.
Now all we need to do is persuade the FC to let Coventry City Football Club play on an artificial pitch.