Wasps Fly Half Issues

Danny Cipriani - Wasps Fly Half

Danny Cipriani – Wasps Fly Half

Our First Choice Fly Half

Danny Cipriani, the current Wasps Fly Half is one of the greatest talents to ever set foot on a rugby pitch.

There. I’ve said it.

That doesn’t mean he is the perfect fly half, far from it. But he does things no-one else could do. His ability to create space where there wasn’t any, his ability to put his back-line through gaps is second to none. But there are a couple of problems. The first is that he has an almost inevitable habit of messing up in a big way. Only once or twice a game, but no-one is surprised when he is charged down, or he kicks the ball straight into the back of one of his own players. Usually when we’re either about to score, or frantically defending. But these are just different aspects of the same thing. He is constantly pushing at the boundaries of what is possible, and sometimes his vision exceeds his ability.

The second issue is his kicking from the tee. It’s just not great. Don’t get me wrong it’s not terrible, but it’s not as metronomic as a team at the top of the Aviva Premiership and in the Quarter Finals of the European Champions Cup would like it to be.  

And that’s OK, because Danny Cipriani is not the only 10 we have.

Jimmy Gopperth is probably one of the most popular players in the team right now. H clearly doesn’t have Danny Cipriani’s flair, but he is everything Danny isn’t. Gopperth is a hard running, utterly fearless player. And his kicking is right up there with the best in the world at the moment.

So Wasps have played their very best with Danny Cipriani pulling the strings at 10, and Jimmy Gopperth running off him at 12 whilst also taking on the kicking duties. After all who said the fly half had to take all the kicks?

A Potential Problem?

But that in itself presents us with a bit of a problem.

If we are playing both of our dedicated 10s at the same time we have effectively removed the option to play a flashy creative back at 12. And if – heaven forbid – one of our 10s finds themselves injured we are suddenly scrambling to put together a good team that is playing where they are familiar. However there is another option.

A Potential Solution

We have another option. I don’t mean Rob Miller, even though he showed some real class when he stepped up at the last minute to cover for Danny when he was ill, I mean one of the most creative and visionary backs in the world today. Kurtley Beale.

I know it would seem that Dai Young sees him in the back three, or possibly even in the centre. But Beale is perfectly capable of playing fly half. And putting him in the 10 shirt not only allows us to rest Danny from time to time without losing any of the vision. But it also allows us to bring one of the centres who aren’t getting much game time back onto the field.

Alapati Leiua may well be leaving us at the end of the season, but there is no doubt that before his horrific run of injuries he was one of the form backs in the world. He’d turned down the All Blacks to play for his home nation of Samoa, and was setting the Southern Hemisphere alight with a fast, elusive running style that would fit perfectly into the current Wasps set up. I’d dearly love to see him running his hard lines off Beale.

And of course if Beale moves forward to 10 that frees up the full back position for Willie le Roux, who, if the rumours are to be believed is the fastest player we have. Already outpacing our lighting back line in training leaving Wade and Simpson in his dust.

I doubt it will happen unless it is forced by injury, but I’d really like to see a back line of:

9: Simpson
10: Beale
11: Bassett
12: Leiua
13: Daly
14: Wade
15: le Roux

What do you think?

The Dilemma Around Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale – Once a Wasp?

Kurtley Beale

Kurtley Beale was one of the biggest signings of the year when the deal was struck for him to come to Wasps, and when he ruptured his patella tendon within hours of the deal being finalised it seemed like a disaster. But his recovery went well and he arrived in Coventry on time, and within less time than anyone could have expected made his debut and scored his first try in black and gold (Match Report).

His signing undeniably went a long way to consoling Wasps’ fans over the loss of Charles Piutau and his brother Siale who had made such a positive impression and rapidly become firm favourites. We all knew they were short term signings, but I suspect I wasn’t the only person who, deep down inside, truly hoped they’d choose to stay. But move on they did, and the addition of Kurtley Beale meant it wasn’t that big a blow.

However because of first his contractual commitments, and second the demands of recovering from a potentially career ending injury meant he wasn’t going to be available until later in the season, so for a while we were going to have to make do with neither Charles Piutau, nor Kurtley Beale.

Thankfully for Wasps we have a player who could easily be described as one of the most under-rated backs in the Premiership. Rob Miller.

Without a world class star at 15 Miller took the opportunity to prove his worth. His solidity under the high ball, his aggressive running, his offloads, and his kicking out of hand meant he rapidly took all the urgency out of the wait for Beale to arrive. It didn’t really seem to matter. And with Jimmy Gopperth able to drop back to cover 15 should it be needed, and in one memorable game the youngster Piers O’Connor taking the 15 shirt to allow Miller to play at 10 it seemed our stock of fullbacks was at an all time high.

But then it was announced that Elliot Daly was expected to make the most of his England career playing at 15, leading to the suggestion that maybe he should play there for Wasps, and as if that wasn’t enough Willie le Roux finally arrived from South Africa to start his time at Wasps.

An Enviable Dilemma

So now Dai Young is in the somewhat enviable position of having to choose between Wasps’ own successful fullback in Miller, two of the best fullbacks in the world in Willie le Roux and Kurtley Beale, and the precocious talent of Daly.

Of course Beale can also play at 10, Daly can play at 11, 12, 13, 14, or 15, Le Roux can play at 11, 14, or 15, and both Miller and Gopperth can seeming play anywhere they feel like, so it isn’t that big a problem. The difficult thing is deciding who to put where. Can any team in the world seriously decide to leave out a player of the calibre of any of the potential options?

And if, for the sake of argument, we do decide to play le Roux at 15, do we then play Beale in the centre? And if we do that do we leave out Daly or Gopperth? How about the equally impressive Eastmond? Perhaps we bump Gopperth to 10, but then we leave out Cipriani.

Maybe the answer is to put le Roux on the wing, but then do we leave out Wade? Surely not. But Halai has proved his worth time and time again over the last couple of seasons, and Bassett has made some seriously impressive improvements in his game and would be a clear starter in almost any other team, so which one of them do we drop?

And that doesn’t even begin to discuss the relative merits of players like Macken, Leiua, or Armitage, all of whom could and have slotted in seamlessly when needed to.

The Rumour Mill

So when the rumour mill started up recently saying that Beale was likely to be leaving Wasps at the end of the season I suspect I wasn’t the only person who wasn’t desperately disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love him to stay, a player of Kurtley Beale’s ability is always going to benefit a team. He’s got a definite x-factor on the pitch and the ability to change the game in a flash. But if he did decide that moving to the UK was an experiment that hadn’t worked out for him I don’t think it would be the end of the world.

I for one wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to move back to Australia. It must have been a hugely traumatic time for him, moving to the other side of the world on the back of a serious injury. And a move that was definitely not supported by the rugby establishment in Australia. Michael Cheika has made it very clear that he did not approve, that he thought it was a mistake for Beale personally, and a damaging move for the Wallabies. That can’t have made it any easier for him, and if he does move back I’d put the blame firmly at Cheika’s door.

I don’t agree that it is a bad move for Beale to play here. I think broadening his horizons, experiencing a different style of play and a new tournament can only benefit him as a player, and getting to know and play regularly against a lot of internationals he will face in the gold shirt of Australia can’t be a bad thing. I think that all of Cheika’s comments have been based on his personal issues with not having access to Beale whenever he wanted it. Not having him in Australia can only have made it harder for Cheika to manage the international squad. But whilst he has to put his own job first, going out of his way to disrupt the career and earnings of one of his star players in order to make his own job easier is selfish at best. Kurtley Beale’s injury is an abject lesson that even the best players could end up unable to ever play again at any moment. And so sabotaging what was reported in the press as the biggest salary in world rugby is an outrageous thing to do.

That being said, it’s also being reported that Bath are also interested in signing Beale. I know it makes me as selfish and subjective as I have just accused Cheika of being, but I think that would be an unfair decision. It was Wasps that brought him to the UK and supported him through the treatment and rehabilitation for his injury, and if he then moves to another UK club within half a season I’d be upset. But not because I think Wasps will suffer noticeably.

With le Roux, Miller, and all the other embarrassment of riches we have in our back line I think we’ll be just fine.

The Best Scrum Half Around?

England's Next Scrum Half

Joe Simpson or Dan Robson?

After impressing in the Autumn Internationals with a couple of well timed dummies, and a perfectly timed quick tap and go penalty it seems Ben Youngs had cemented his claim to the England scrum half shirt. But I’d like to suggest that all is not as secure as it initially seems.

So far for the RBS Six Nations Youngs has started at scrum half against France and Wales, and Danny Care has come off the bench. And it is at this point that we have seen a noticeable step up in the performance of the team. In both games we have looked to be struggling to put the opposition away for the first three quarters of the game, only to secure it in the last fifteen minutes. This, at least in my opinion, is at least partly due to Youngs.  Care brings something Youngs simply does not have.  Whether that is flair, speed, an ability to read the game, or simply faster distribution he is obviously better at driving the team than Youngs is.

Care is clearly faster at getting the ball back into play at the breakdown, even if Youngs box kicks are marginally better as a rule. But, and this is a very big but indeed, there are two scrum halves who could do a much better job, and luckily for Wasps, they both play for us.

Joe Simpson was all set to finally improve on his single solitary cap last year in the Six Nations, but an ankle injury against Leinster that required surgery put paid to any chances he had. He recovered and was all set to take part in the GB Rugby Sevens squad at the Olympics when a second major injury dashed his hopes yet again.

However the injuries themselves have not stopped him from showing his incredible skill. His ability to read the field is brilliant, and his experience give him an edge few others have. He has astonishing pace, even by the standards of the backline at Wasps, and his box kicking is certainly way ahead of either Youngs or Care.

However he isn’t a shoe in at Wasps for a starting spot at scrum half, because of our other freakish talent. Dan Robson.

Dan probably isn’t quite as quick in a straight footrace as Joe, but the speed of his distribution is lightning fast. He might not have the experience Joe has, but his natural flair as a footballer more than makes up for it. His vision, and ability to make the right call under the greatest of pressure was exactly what kept Wasps in the European Challenge Cup, with a fantastic quick tap and go of his own leading to a match winning try in the dying moments of the game against Toulouse.

So Eddie, if you are reading this (and let’s face it why wouldn’t you be?) and you want a Scrum Half who has solid skills with the ball, the ability to read the match, and has something special about him, then please drop Youngs and come and take a look at one of our boys?

Or even better, get Joe starting, and then bring Dan on for the last 20 minutes to finish the game and close it out.

The Trouble With Elliot Daly

Elliot Daly

England and Wasps’ Elliot Daly

At Wasps we’ve long known Elliot Daly was a genius on the field.  His ability to beat defenders, his outside arc with the afterburners on, his side step, and his offloads have been the source of much admiration for years.  And his uncanny ability to slot over place kicks from further away than anyone would believe possible is the stuff of legend.  So when he finally made it into the England set up no-one was at all surprised.

What is a surprise however is how he seems to flit from one position to another without seeming to cause himself any problems at all.  Center?  No problem.  Wing? A doddle.  Even packing down in the scrum at one stage. But despite that everyone seems to be saying that it is at fullback with 15 on his shirt that he will eventually find his home.

The Wasps discussion forums are full of debates about what his best position is, and therefore where we at Wasps, and Eddie Jones’s England should actually be playing him.  But the fact that no-one can agree shows one thing perfectly clearly.

Elliot Daly is a player who can make his natural abilities with the ball fit in any number of positions.  The only thing that matters is that he does indeed play.  And after his astonishing try saving chase followed almost immediately by a match winning try of his own against Wales it seems that that is not going to be up for debate for some time.  

But that does tend to leave those charged with putting names on a teamsheet with a bit of a headache.  

Where the hell do you actually play him?  

It seems to me at least that the current England approach is to fill the rest of the back line and then to slot Elliot Daly into whichever position is left.  Though whatever you think of such an approach it is hard to claim it isn’t working for England.  Whether it will work quite so well for Wasps it is hard to say, but as we’re currently sitting top of the Premiership it’s hard to argue.

I strongly suspect that one of the other things that makes him such a perfect fit for Jones’s England is his natural abrasiveness. The very aspect of his character that had him sent off and further cited for abusing an official during a particularly torrid match for Wasps is the thing that Jones seems to seek out in his players.  He likes players who care, and who translate that into action on the pitch.  Players who will bring their aggression with them onto the pitch.  Hartley, Brown, Farrell, Care, are all prime examples of this, and it is a mould Elliot Daly fits perfectly.

If only there was a position that fitted him quite as well.

My team for Worcester Warriors

Wasps vs Worcester WarriorsAfter such a hard fought win against one of the best teams in Europe it is hard to force ourselves to turn back to the Premiership, especially when we have already secured our place in the Champions Cup next year (probably) and likely managed to reach the play-offs for the first time in what seems like an age. But putting aside the excitement is exactly what we need to do in order to concentrate on the next game. There is no new silverware gracing the trophy cabinet just yet, and if we take our foot off the gas then there won’t be.

The next game is against Worcester Warriors, and it would be very easy to write it off as being an easy win. Worcester are sitting right at the bottom of the table, and whilst they are likely safe from relegation it would be extremely easy to assume it will be an easy win. That would be a big mistake.

We are without a doubt the form team in the Northern Hemisphere right now. We have dispatched Saracens, Toulon, Leinster, Saints, Quins, and now, by the skin of our teeth, Chiefs. Complacency would be an easy trap to fall in to, a trap we need to avoid. Firstly, we don’t have the comfort of playing at home, and whilst our away record has been better this year than for an long long time the games against Newcastle, and especially Gloucester should serve as a warning that it can still be a significant factor.

On top of that there is the fact that Worcester are actually a very dangerous team who have beaten Saints, Falcons, Sale sharks, Quins, Gloucester and Irish. They have pushed others very close, and have some top level players who provide a very real threat. And that is why we shouldn’t be looking to put out a weaker team than we need to. Every point is valuable, even at the top of the table, and we need to keep momentum going into the next few games.

Even if we reach the finals of both competitions there are only 7 games left in the season, and so resting players is not strictly necessary, unless of course there are knocks or minor injuries. The depth of quality we have mean we are able to provide a little rotation, and the fact that many of our best players have had time off recently , either away with the International squads, or due to injuries, mean that we can, and should be putting out a pretty impressive squad to face Worcester Warriors.

In the front row I’d likely start McIntyre, who has proved his worth time and again pushing Mullan for the starting berth. Festuccia as hooker, and Cooper-Wooley on the other side. At the start of the season it would have seemed outrageous to be sad that we couldn’t start Gaskell or Myall, but due to injury that is the case so I’d have Launchbury and Davies in the starting line up. The back row is a little more flexible, with real dilemmas as to who should be starting. I suspect that Haskell could do with another week before subjecting his healing wounds to the impact of another game, so I’d have Young in his place. Hughes has been immense all season, but I’d like to see Jones get the starting berth if he is back to fitness in order to try and get a bit of match time in in case we need him later in the season. On the other side it would be tempting to start Smith again, but if anyone needs a brief respite it is him, and so I would start Reider, who has shown enough form and ability to make it into the starting line up of most teams.

I’d start Simpson at scrum half, before his injury he was without a doubt the form 9 in the Premiership, and whilst Robson has shown himself to be his equal I’d like to see him given a little rest. At Fly Half Gopperth has proved his weight in gold, with his coolness under pressure winning the game for us last week, but Jackson has never really done anything wrong, and provided his own moments of magic earlier in the season. Perhaps his kicking isn’t quite as good, but it is certainly good enough.

The centres are where things prove to be a little tricky. The Piutau brothers have been astonishingly good working together at 12 and 13, but then so were Ben Jacobs and Elliot Daly earlier in the season. Its a hard call to make, but if Jacobs is fit I’d start him at 12, and Daly at 13. Halai and Wade are clear choices for the wings, and Miller would be the best full back we’ve had for an awful long time if we didn’t also have Charles Piutau.

So my choice of team for this weekend against Worcester Warriors would be:

McIntyre
Festuccia
Cooper-Wooley
Launchbury
Davies
Reider
Young
Jones
Simpson
Jackson
Halai
Jacobs
Daly
Wade
Miller

With a bench of

Mullan
Johnson
Cittadini
Cannon
Smith
Hampson
Lozowski
C Piutau

What do you think? Can we take our foot off the gas, or do we need to hit this one hard and make sure of as many points as we can get?

Piutau Piutau Soundbite

I was asked if I could make this into a soundbite to use as a message alert. So I did…

 

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