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.

Should Christian Wade play for England?

Christian Wade

Wasps Christian Wade

There is no denying that Wasps have been the team for watch for quite a while recently. Their utter domination of teams like Saracens, Toulon, and Leinster as well as the dramatic European Champions Cup quarter final win over Exeter with a last minute conversion from Jimmy Gopperth who gets more impressive every week. And so you can fully expect that Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland have been watching with interest. Amongst the fans the feeling is that Christian Wade has been massively unfairly treated by being repeatedly missed out from the EPS squad, and so I thought it would be interesting to compare his statistics with those of wingers within the squad. Namely Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, and Chris Ashton.

Now before I let loose with the numbers there are a few points I have to make. Firstly that these statistics are not fair comparisons. They are drawn from the last five games the wingers in question played, and of course for some of them these will be domestic games, for others Internationals. It also does not take things like injuries into account, or amount of time on the pitch. Nor the quality of their opponents. But putting these things aside they do make interesting reading.

The general consensus amongst non-Wasps fans is that Christian Wade is very fast, but has terrible defence. This is strengthened by being the ostensible reason Lancaster didn’t have him in the squad for the majority of his tenure. But is it true?

Should Christian Wade Play for England?

If we look at nothing but tackles then Wade made 19 tackles and missed 6. A success rate of 76%.

In comparison Nowell made 35 tackles and missed 9, a success rate of 79%, Watson made 13 and missed 3 – 81% success rate, and Ashton made 22 and missed 3 – 88%.

If defence is what you are picking a winger on then Wade does indeed have the worst rate. But not by an awful lot, and there is a massive difference between the work rate of Nowell who racked up 44 attempted tackles in five games, and Watson’s 16. So on the face of it this isn’t a particularly useful stat. It doesn’t for example take into consideration all the times a Winger may have been so far out of position they didn’t even bother attempting a tackle.

Let’s look at some more offensive stats.

During those five games Christian Wade made 2 turnovers, and scored 3 tries. Nowell 5 turnovers and 1 try, Watson 2 turnovers and 3 tries, and Ashton no turnovers at all, but 4 tries.

If try scoring is your measure, then Ashton is in the lead, with Nowell last. If it is turnovers then it is the exact opposite.

Perhaps the most useful figures would be to look at the number of carries a wing makes?

Wade – 29

Nowell – 48

Watson – 44

Ashton – 30

Again it is pretty clear that the work rate of the two incumbents is far and above the other two we are looking at. But again how relevant is work? Surely it is success that counts. Instead of carries we ought to look at metres made? Maybe even metres made per game or per carry.

This is where Christian Wade starts to shine.

Over his last five games he made 260m with the ball in hand, which comes to 9m per carry, and 52m per game.

Nowell made 323m, which averages as 6.7m per carry and 64.6m per game. Watson 314m overall, 7.1m per carry, and 62.8m per game. And Ashton 188m overall with 6.3 metres per carry, and 37.6 metres per game.

Wade is far and away the best if we are using metres per carry, but falls way behind Watson and Nowell in metres per game. And so if there is anything that is letting him down, it would seem to be his work rate. The obvious question this does raise however is why is Chris Ashton in the EPS and Christian Wade not if these figures are in any way relevant. Wade makes significantly more metres every tie he gets the ball, and in every game he plays than Ashton.

Take all of this with a pinch of salt, it is a tiny sample, and we should be wary about using it to prove anything much. Adding in another game alters the stats pretty significantly, as does taking one away. I have also not looked at penalty count, or Yellow and red cards (yes Watson I am looking at you).

The other thing to bear in mind, is that these stats have been a week or so in the collecting, and so do not include this weekend’s game assuming the players in question were even playing.

Why what Joe Marler said was Racist, but why the IRB was wrong to punish him for it

This site is designed to be about Wasps Rugby, and so this post is a bit of a departure. But I feel it is an important subject that affects us all, and so here are my thoughts.

Why what Joe Marler said was racist, but why the IRB was wrong to punish him for it.

Joe Marler and Samson Lee

Clearly no offense taken

There is a huge amount of discussion currently on the punishment Joe Marler, Harlequins and England Prop has received for calling Samson Lee “Gypsy Boy” during the Six Nations game between England and Wales. I’d like to explain why it is that that comment was indeed inappropriate and racist.

The first point is that the comment was clearly made to provoke Lee. It has been written off as simple “banter” by numerous people, but that in itself makes it clear that Marler was trying to get under Lee’s skin and to generate a response of some kind. So we know that it was designed to be at least a little irritating and potentially upsetting when it was said. But was it racist?

As Lee is a member of the traveller community, a group of people who have a separate identity from the mainstream communities in England and Wales it was certainly referencing his cultural heritage, even if we do not consider being a traveller to be a separate race. And so while it may or may not fit the exact specific defintion of racism as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, it is certainly close enough to fit. But the next question we need to look at is whether referencing someone’s race or heritage is actually insulting.

There are a number of arguments being put forward by Rugby fans who don’t think that what Joe Marler said was worthy of criticism. I’m going to look at them individually.

“Lee wasn’t insulted, so why should we be?”

We have no way of knowing whether this is true or not. It likely is, but I don’t think that is relevant. Even if Lee was insulted by Joe Marler’s comment he is highly unlikely to admit it. He is a top level international rugby player and letting your opposition know that they can potentially gain an edge over you by insulting you is never going to happen. Even if he cried himself to sleep that night (and I stress that I doubt this happened) he would never admit it to the general public, as it would simply be setting himself up for more insulting behaviour. But even if he wasn’t personally offended that doesn’t really matter. What matters with racist behaviour is that it directed at someone because of their race or heritage, and therefore targets everyone of that particular race or heritage. Lee may well not have been offended, but perhaps the young boy who idolises Lee and for the first time ever saw someone from his own background playing rugby at the highest level was offended. Perhaps that young boy will never play rugby now. And so if the comment was indeed insulting then it doesn’t matter whether Lee took personal offense.

“I’m not insulted by being called English”

The implication here is that calling Lee a Gypsy is simply a description, and that as such, it isn’t offensive. This is the subtlest, and the most damaging type of thinking, but sadly seems to be the most common.

Firstly we have already shown that Joe Marler’s comment was designed to get a rise from Lee, why say it otherwise? So if it was indeed just a description how could it get a rise?  

Let me try to show you how the context of an insult can be important.

I have two friends, one who has done very well for himself. He did well at school, got a good job, and worked hard. He put money away, and inherited more, and is now in an enviable position. He has a lovely house and drives an Aston Martin. I have another friend who has struggled all his life. He always seemed to be on the wrong end of luck, and ended up declaring himself backrupt. He fought and struggled to get enough money to buy himself a car, it was an old Peugeot 205, rusty and prone to breaking down. But he was proud of it, he’d worked hard to get it, and against all the odds he made it happen.

If I said to my friends that their car was crap one of them would likely laugh it off as banter, the other may well be offended.

The fact is that the comment itself is not the damaging thing. It is the context the comment is made in. To a person who has always had lovely cars, saying their car is crap is water off a duck’s back. But to someone who has had to fight for years to get an unreliable, rusty, old, car and for the first time has managed to get a car they can call their own, it is much much more likely to cause upset.

The traveller community has long been derided as somehow worth less than the normal traditional community in the UK. A quick google search shows words like “sub-human”, “scum”, “in-bred” used to define them. Calling someone a Gypsy is an insult, it carries with it all the connotations that the word has picked up over decades, or even centuries of abuse and derision. To Lee it was a pointed reminder that he was from a lesser group. That he was not of the same worth as Marler. The addition of the word “boy” serves to prove that. Calling a grown man “boy” is always an attempt to demean them. “Gypsy Boy” is an attempt to show Lee he is inferior in every way.

The sad fact is, that a white middle class English man from a mainstream background is in no position to decide if a comment made to another person about their heritage is worthy of causing insult. I’m purposefully stopping short of saying “check your privelege”, but context is key. In this, and every other aspect of potential racism. If you, like me, have grown up in a world where being a white, English, male from a mainstream community, is the best start you could possibly have, and you are part of that group, then it is hard to see things from a different perspective.  Important, but hard.

“It’s Political Correctness gone mad”

This is one I find the most annoying. Political correctness is a good thing in the main. It is exactly that that has stopped things like the Conservative Party’s campaign for the Smethwick seat in the general election of 1964 being considered appropriate – google it if you don’t know. I suspect you’ll be surprised.

I’d like to think that as a society we all start from the basic position of wanting to treat others with respect, and to be treated with respect ourselves. And so if some of us have to not use certain words or phrases is that really a big sacrifice to make? I’d suggest it isn’t.

I do not understand the mentality of someone who, after being told that something they have said or done has potentially caused offense, loudly argues for their right to keep doing or saying it.

How does it negatively impact on your life if professional rugby players are not allowed to insult each other in a certain way? Is your enjoyment of the game based purely on the fact that potentially racist insults are allowed? Does the game become less enjoyable if things you dismiss as “banter” are removed? Are beautiful running lines, passes, offloads, and tries not what we care about?  Is watching a perfectly timed tackle, or big hit from a running back row forward not enjoyable if we aren’t allowed to also racially abuse the people who are playing?

Racism has massively decreased in day to day life, and that is a good thing. But it has not been eradicated, and that is a bad thing. It is not political correctness gone mad to try to actually eradicate it. And if along the way one or two behaviours that were less insulting than others fall by the wayside too so what?

“Gypsy” may well not be as insulting as “Nigger”, and “Paki” and countless other terms I heard growing up in the 70s, but that does not mean any one of them are acceptable. They are not, and if you are one of the minority who think your right to use such words is more important than the right of others not to be insulted based on their genetic lineage then I suggest that you take a long hard look at your opinions.

Why the IRB was wrong

Rugby prides itself on being based on values of respect and “proper” behaviour. Players are still punished for speaking disrespectfully to the officials (not enough in my opinion), and so that is exactly why the 6N should have punished Joe Marler for what was clearly a lapse in judgement.

But 6 Nations Rugby did not punish Joe Marler. They looked at the situation, saw that he had apologised during the game, saw that he was seemingly contrite and remorseful, and let it go. It was wrong for them to do that, but much as during the game the referee’s word is law and cannot be disputed, that is where it should have stopped.

The IRB have undermined the entire process of discipline in the game. They did it for the right reasons, as the RFU were wrong to not act. But that does not mean they should do so.