After last weeks disappointing loss to Gloucester it was nice to see Wasps bounce back with a solid win against their old rivals Leicester Tigers. It was a very different game to watch, and I thought it might be interesting to look at what Wasps did right in this game that they failed to in the last one.
Dai Young often says that we need to win the right to play the game we want to play, and it sounds like a silly soundbite, the kind of thing that Directors of Rugby all across the country say because they have to say something, but that isn’t Dai’s way. And when we look at what Wasps did right against Leicester you can see exactly what it is he is talking about. We did win the right to play the game the way we wanted to. Let’s see how.
Here is the first try.
On first viewing it is easy to simply write this off as a lovely bit of play by Charles Piutau, and in some ways that would be fair. It was indeed a lovely bit of play by him. It was a nice mix of deft footwork, powerful driving, and understanding how to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses. But that is simply looking at how we play. What is more interesting is how we earned the right for Charles to make his run for the line. To do that, we need to go back further and see what the team as a whole did.
What Wasps Did Right
The try started with a Wasps lineout on the Tigers’ 22. Instead of what is rapidly becoming the almost inevitable rolling maul Johnson throws to the rear of the line, it is taken cleanly and instantly passed out to Frank Halai who darts to the centre of the field, sees there is nothing on and takes the contact. He could easily have run across the field and tried to find his way throgh the defence which was drifting nicely. But he didn’t. He knew he had plenty of support and so created a point in the centre of the field that tied in defenders and allowed Robson to get the ball moving again very quickly.
It’s a fairly standard way of disrupting the defensive patterns of the opposition. As long as you win the ruck and the ball comes out quickly then you have drawn defenders in to what in this case was the centre of the field in order to have fewer of them further out.
What happens next is where it starts to get interesting.
The next player (I can’t see for sure who this is, I suspect Gopperth as this is something he does very well indeed) takes the pass cleanly and runs straight at the defence. This could easily be another ruck, he could be looking to break through the line – he certainly has the power to – so the defence cannot ignore it. He draws in two tacklers, but instead of simply taking the contact and recycling the ball he offloads directly into the hands of Ashley Johnson who is now running at some pace onto his right shoulder. As PossiblyGopperth has tied in two defenders that only leaves one to stop Johnson. Anyon who has seen him play knows that was never going to happen. It takes another tackler to bring him down, but by the time that happens he has take the ball forward 11 yards. This is where we start to see what Wasps did right.
He goes to ground knowing full well he has support and places the ball for Robson to take. James Cannon and Jake Cooper-Wooley are with him, but instead of simply blocking at the ruck they drive straight over the top of him and take out the defender who was coming in to the ruck to compete for the ball.
As they do this Cooper-Wooley keeps driving and Cannon slows. This effectively blocks any defender on their left from coming across to compete for the ball which Robson has already got out. Cannon even holds out his hand to stop the Tigers 8 from coming across. This is actually pretty close to blocking, but as it all happens so quickly and as part of what might have briefly been a ruck it isn’t enough to stop play.
The first contact took out two of the defenders in return for one of ours.. As they had made the tackle and were on the ground they are not allowed to play the ball until they have got back up to their feet. It’s worth noting Robson’s positioning here. None of this works if he isn’t where he needs to be, and invariably he is. He is exactly where he needs to be in order to get the ball back out quickly.
The drive takes out the next two defenders, and effectively blocks the way for any other supporting players to join the defence.
You can see quite clearly now that we have taken out more of their players than we have used to take them out which should have the effect of creating an overlap further down the field. You can also see that the tacklers haven’t even managed to get halfway up before Robson is funnelling the ball down the line.
He does exactly the same as he did last time and gets the ball to the hands of one of the runners. This time it is definitely Gopperth who once again runs straight. He is within a few yards of the line and there is no way he isn’t going over if the defence doesn’t stop him. So they have to commit and again he draws two tacklers – circled in red. The second they commit he has created a 3 on 1 to his right. Not only that, but those three are Charles Piutau, Rob Miller, and Christian Wade. The single defender has a decision to make.
He makes the wrong decision. He goes wide to try to stop the ball going to Wade and Piutau takes the offload. His incredible skill made the fact that he had two players running support lines irrelevant, but should he not have been able to sit the first tackler down, and get low enough to touch the ball down all he had to do was offload.
You can see how a lovely try that could easily make its way into a highlight reel for Charles was in fact created by the entire team, forwards and backs. The team earned the right to play the ball. And because of that they did play the ball. They did it again and again, and came away with a solid win and another 5 points.