Piutau Piutau Soundbite

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

 

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Should Christian Wade play for England?

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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

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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.

Wasps vs Newcastle Falcons – Preview

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Newcastle Falcons

17 England Caps and 2285 Premiership Points to his name – Write him off at your peril

It is a very interesting, and lets face it, enjoyable time to be a Wasps supporter. The team is playing as well, if not better than the have in a long long time. We have a stunning nine wins from our last eleven games across all competitions, and four out of our last five wins have been bonus point wins with no less than 27 tries in those five wins.

Everyone says Wasps are the form team of the Premiership, and by pretty much any metric you choose to measure us against they are right. And it has been going on long enough now that the dark days of looming bankruptcy and relegation battles seem a very long time ago indeed. Wasps are riding the crest of a wave, and that worries me.

The general chatter is that we are fully expected to carry on scoring tries for fun and to do the business against Newcastle Falcons this weekend. There is even talk on the fan forums about letting our big name players have a week’s rest.

This, in my opinion, would be a huge mistake.

I’ll explain why.

When this season’s form started, it did so in a patchy way. We’d lurch between stunning wins (Leinster and Toulon anyone?) and disappointing losses (Chiefs, Bath, Toulon away?). You’d be hard pushed to say whether our current run really started with the win against Saints at Franklins Gardens, or with the St Valentine’s day massacre where we demolished Saracens at Allianz Park. There are arguments in favour of both, but the game that separates them was a lacklustre performance at home against, you guessed it, Newcastle Falcons. We nicked a win by a single point.

Maybe it was just a blip? Perhaps that game was the exception that proves the rule? We’d have to look at the last season to find out. Admittedly we weren’t playing quite so well, but when we last travelled to the frozen wastelands of the North we were lucky to leave with a draw. To find a resounding win you have to go back to September 2014 when Tom Varndell and Andy Goode gave us a bonus point win.

Varndell is long gone, and whether you are happy or sad about it there is no changing it. And Goode currently plays for, yes, you guessed it again, Newcastle Falcons. He came out of retirement to help them with their injury crisis, and has proved yet again that he has a brilliant rugby brain, and an ability to read the game second to none. This weekend will be his last ever game in the premiership, not only has he made that clear, but his short term contract will have run its course. Falcons are marketing this game as “Goode Sunday” and you can fully expect him to play at least part of the game, even if they have to wheel him onto the pitch on a hospital trolley. He desparately wants to go out on a high note, and if there was ever any tactician in the game who would know how to play against Wasps it is him.

He knows full well that our attack is firing brilliantly, and that Gloucester neutralised us perfectly. He also knows that we almost always prefer to run the ball than kick it. A well executed kicking game with a hard and fast kick-chase is exactly what negates us, and it is exactly what suits him down to the ground.

That is why we don’t want to rest our best players. At the very most we have ten games left this season. And that is only if we make it to both the premiership and ECC finals. We need our best Full back on the field at 15, and that is Charles Piutau. We need our best wingers on the field and they are Christian Wade and Frank Halai, we need our best centres in the middle, and they are Siale Piutau, and Elliot Daly, and we need our best half backs linking it together. They are Gopperth and Robson on current evidence.

Our pack needs to dominate, and we need to be competing for the ball at every possible opportunity. A ruck is not a reset, it is a chance to win the ball. A lineout is a chance to turn them over, and a scrum is simply a try waiting to happen.

We need the team that can perform the best on an artificial surface, and so that is why I fully expect to see Launch, Mullan, and Daly straight back to the first choice. I expect to see Davies on the bench along with Jackson and Cittadini, and I expect to see Hask having a week to recover from the atrocious level of damage he took dominating almost every breakdown in a 6 Nations Grand Slam.

I’d be very happy to empty the bench early on if it looks like we have it in the bag, but I’d hate to go with the arrogance of the assured winners, because if there was ever a team perfectly placed to show us the error of our ways it is Falcons. They desparately need the points right now, and if we take our eye off the ball (literally and metaphorically) they will destroy us.

My team to face Newcastle Falcons this weekend would be.

Mullan
Festuccia
Cooper-Wooley
Launchbury
Myall
Smith
Young
Hughes
Robson
Gopperth
Halai
S. Piutau
Daly
Wade
C. Piutau

With a bench of
McIntyre
Johnson
Cittadini
Davies
Stevenson
Jackson
Jones
Macken

And if we take that team, I’d expect us to come away with another good(e) win.

Wasps vs Sale Sharks – Match Preview

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Wasps vs Sale SharksThe last time Wasps faced Sale sharks, we came away with only a losing bonus point for our troubles, but this weekend we face them at home, and it looks like it may be a different result. Wasps are clear favourites after an amazing run of form in both the Aviva Premiership and the European Champions Cup. I thought it might be interesting to look at the statistics from both teams last games, and see if there was anything that might help us predict the result this weekend when Sale Sharks play Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

Firstly lets look at attacking play.

Wasps made 488 metres in total when the played Leicester Tigers, but Sale Sharks only managed 322 metres when playing Northampton Saints. Interestingly three Wasps players made more than 70m (Wade, Halai, and C Piutau) while only one Sale Sharks player managed the same, Danny Cipriani. So when it comes to making metres Wasps have a clear advantage, but that could just reflect the fact that the style of play more often than not involves running the ball from deep instead of kicking.

Wasps managed 125 carries, with Smith, Jones, Wade, and Miller all making it into double figures, while Sale Sharks made 84 carries. Ioane, Addison, and Arscott made it to double figures. Though again this stat may simply reflect the style of play rather than success with the ball in hand.

To see how effective the teams were we need to look at some different statistics.

Wasps managed 10 clean breaks, with Sale only 1 behind with 9, however Sale only beat 11 defenders, while Wasps beat 26 defenders. This is a much more interesting statistic as it shows that Wasps are not only running the ball a lot, but are successfully managing to get past the defence with the ball in hand. The stats for offloads and passes made are both pretty similar, so it would seem that defenders beaten is the only significant figure we can look at that might have any bearing on the game.

However it isn’t all about attack (so I am told, as a Wasps fan it really is), and so lets look at defence. Wasps made 104 tackles, and missed 14, while Sale Sharks made 127 and missed 18. I am sure both sets of coaches would consider the number of missed tackles to be far too high (and it’s hard to disagree), Wasps did miss marginally fewer (11% as opposed to 12.5%) but missing more than 1 in 10 is going to be an issue for both teams.

The one last statistic that is of note is the number of turnovers. Wasps made 5 against Tigers, while Sharks failed to make a single turnover against Saints. Part of that is down to George Smith, but he only made 1 of the 5, so perhaps his magic is rubbing off on the others.

I haven’t looked at the set piece, simply because Wasps have shown themselves very able to play the game plan they do best whether they are dominating, or being driven backwards at the scrum. Though it is worth bearing in mind that Sale have a number of players who can and do steal lineouts.

Who is going to win? My money would be on Wasps. If it is dry I would suggest there will be two converted tries between the teams, if wet it may come down to the respective boots of Gopperth and Cipriani, and on current form Gopperth is going to win that contest.