Sunday saw a battle between the defending European Champions, Saracens and last year’s Premiership runners-up, Wasps at Allianz Park. Both teams came in fielding weakened sides due to injuries – a common sight in the Premiership this season – but on the day Brad Barritt made his 200th appearance for the home side, Sarries’ strength in depth saw them run out 38-19 victors, despite a late fightback from Wasps. The bonus point win puts Saracens top of the table, while Wasps currently find themselves down in tenth, with only London Irish and Worcester below them.
Among the list of unavailable player for Wasps were fly half Danny Cipriani and 2016/17’s player of the season Jimmy Gopperth. Despite spending much of his time at centre since Cipriani returned to Wasps, Gopperth is also their second choice at fly half, so to lose both their playmakers at the same point was always going to make things hard for Wasps, before even taking into account the effectiveness of the Saracens defence. Rob Miller was given the number 10 shirt for this game but rarely looked comfortable or dangerous against the Wolfpack. I’m not putting the blame solely on him as his forwards could not consistently get front foot ball and his backs outside him could not get anything going either, but it also felt that the Wasps attack was very basic, making it very easy for the home team.
Saracens were also missing their first choice 10, Owen Farrell, for this game, as he had to pull out of his position on the bench due to injury, but Alex Lozowski – a former Wasp – is well established in that position and the quality around him takes a lot of pressure off of him. Third choice Max Malins, who came on for the last 15 minutes is also a very impressive young player but did not have much to do by that point other than join the defensive effort.
Right now, the Wasps side looks like it relies on the fly half, whereas Sarries look like losing a fly half is just a matter of bringing the next person through to keep the ship steady and on course.
Get him in the England squad!
Regular readers of my blog will know that I rate Wasps scrum half Dan Robson very highly. I was gutted to see him leave Gloucester as he looked a real talent when he split time with Jimmy Cowan for Gloucester, but since moving to Wasps his game has gone to another level! I am probably a bit biased but I would argue that despite only being on the pitch for just over 20 minutes, Robson – who is himself only just returning from injury – was the best scrum half on show at the Allianz! After his introduction, Wasps’ attack went up in tempo and he was managing to find gaps for both himself and teammates that Joe Simpson had not been able to.
He started the season in such great form with 4 tries against Sale and I honestly think his injury has been a big factor in Wasps’ recent slump along with the injuries at fly half. If he can quickly get back to his pre-injury form, I think he has to be given the chance by Eddie Jones in the Autumn Internationals.
With star players Nathan Hughes, Cipriani and Gopperth all missing and players like James Haskell and Elliott Daly not yet reproducing last season’s form – a result of a heavily shortened offseason following the Lions Tour? – I was shocked to see Christian Wade on the bench when the teams were named. This is nothing against Josh Bassett and Marcus Watson, but Wade has clearly shown himself to be one of the most exciting and dangerous wingers in the league. He is a match-winner in a team desperate for a result. I assume that he was benched as Dai Young felt the other wingers would be able to match up better against the opposition, but it seemed to contribute to an attack that was very limited in what it could do and the danger it could pose. Maybe he was being rested in readiness for Friday’s trip to Ulster – it is ridiculous that they have such a short turnaround – but if that result does not go their way either, then it leaves Wasps in a very poor position.
I was unable to watch the game live as it was my cousin’s birthday, but had the match on record. When I received an email update from my fantasy rugby team stating that Jamie George was my highest scoring player this week, I thought that he must have had a decent game, but even I wasn’t expecting to sit down and watch him score 3 tries!
A while back I wrote about the way that the prop position has evolved, well hooker has also evolved in a similar way. To be one of the best hookers in the world, it is no longer enough to just be solid at the set piece. A top international hooker must be able to act like a 4th back row on the field, able to pass and run effectively in open play. In my opinion, Jamie George is up there with the best in the world and at just 26 probably hasn’t yet reached his peak! He may not have had many chances to prove his ability in open play at the weekend, but he was 100% at the line-out, leading to his 2 drive-over tries. The one chance he did get to show his ability in the loose was for his opening try, where he reacted quickest to Chris Wyles’ quick-tap penalty and ran an attacking line a centre would be proud of to cross the line unchallenged.
I am hoping that Eddie Jones chooses to start George during the Autumn Internationals. Dylan Hartley has been a great servant for England and has done a great job as captain under Jones, but George is much more dangerous in the loose and has earned the chance to stat for England. It can certainly be argued that England have the best 1-2 punch at hooker in international rugby. I honestly think that if given the starting job for England, George could soon compete with New Zealand’s Dane Coles for the title of the World’s best hooker.
I’m sure he won’t be given the chance to get a big head though, it would be shocked if he is not receiving at least a gentle ribbing from his teammates for being bumped off by Willie le Roux…