Wasps’ relentless surge from tenth to second in the Gallagher Premiership and into the final has quite rightly seen praise lavished over many individuals.

Jack Willis has been chief among them, taking home a hat-trick of individual awards this week while Lee Blackett was in the running for the top boss award. Dan Robson, Jacob Umaga and Alfie Barbeary’s exploits have also caught the eye with all three tipped to be included in England’s squad for the autumn tests.

But which players and coaches have flown under the radar but have played crucial roles in Wasps’ extraordinary season? Rugby writer Bobby Bridge shines a light on seven of them here…

Ben Harris

His name may not have featured in the 23-man squad in the semi-final, but the loose-head prop’s contribution during the past two seasons cannot be ignored.

Not so long ago he was Wasps’ fourth choice in the position but has become a pillar of strength on the left side of the scrum. Standing at 6ft 4in tall and weighing a sniff under 20 stone, he takes some shifting and has become increasingly influential in attack.

While many people have questioned why Zurabi Zhvania hasn’t featured at all since the restart, one of the reasons why is likely to be the sheer consistency of 31-year-old Harris.

He is perhaps a little unfortunate that experienced warhorse Simon McIntyre has returned to the peak of his powers at the business end of the season and Tom West has proven so explosive from the bench.

But given Exeter’s sheer power and size across the pack, Wasps may turn to Harris for the Twickenham showdown.

Josh Bassett

Five tries in his last eight games has taken the winger to 51 in 126 outings in a Wasps shirt. That’s a try every two-and-a-half games.

Yet somehow he still flies under the radar. Maybe, in part, due to the eye-catching work of Zach Kibirige on the other wing this season and a certain prolific flanker who has received a few awards recently.



Josh Bassett of Wasps

Back in December, a fit-and-ready Bassett had featured in just one of five matchday squads prompting to us to ask then-boss Dai Young why he wasn’t playing. It was a question on supporters’ lips. Having overplayed Bassett last season, Wasps had the luxury of options this term and Young said it was just a case of chances not being taken and the form of other options.

Bassett’s head did not drop and he has been pivotal in turning around Wasps’ fortunes, and not just with his try-scoring.

At nearly 6ft 4ins tall, the former Bedford Blues back has been a big presence under a high ball both defensively and in attack, becoming a great option for Jacob Umaga to hit in the wide channels. And his ability to keep the ball alive and in play tight to the touchline has helped keep Wasps on the front foot.

Remember the 2018/19 season and Wasps being so guilty of kicking away good attacking opportunities and not building pressure? It seems a part of their very distant past.

Matt Everard



Wasps coach Matt Everard

 

Many players have recently made the step up from Wasps academy to the senior ranks, and going on the same journey with them is Matt Everard.

The former Wasps player became a ‘transition coach’ and has helped oversee the likes of Tom Willis, Alfie Barbeary, Jacob Umaga Tom West, Gabriel Oghre, Tim Cardall, Sam Spink, Will Porter and many others make that big step.

Those players are are evidence that something is going right and you don’t have to look far within the camp to find some positive words to be said about the former flanker.

He seems to have an increased influence on matchdays too, especially vocally.

Kieran Brookes

If the England squad was picked on form alone, the 30-year-old tight-head prop would be in with a shout. Having suffered a shoulder injury in the first game back after the restart, he has returned fitter, leaner and meaner.

The 16-times capped forward seldom loses the battle at scrum time and is also making big contributions away from the setpiece too.



Kieran Brookes of Wasps

In two appearances against Bristol Bears we saw him make a 15-metre line break before dumping Piers O’Conor on his back in the semi-final. He also went agonisingly close to a first Wasps try against Exeter Chiefs in the final round of the regular season.

He is Wasps’ premier, leading tight-head prop by some distance. Biyi Alo and Jeff Toomaga-Allen have made big strides as his understudy while Jack Owlett’s chances have been few and far between.

It’s easy to forget that this guy has played at a Rugby World Cup and has been performing at the top level for more than a decade.

Neil Fowkes

When the BT Sports camera first panned on his face following the restart, there was a pause in commentary, perhaps as they looked to identify the broad shouldered individual in Wasps attire.

The Nottingham head coach was brought on board by Wasps on a part-time basis while rugby remains paused below the Premiership. Head coach Lee Blackett recently revealed that although Fowkes is paid for two days a week, he has been turning up almost every working day to contribute to the cause.

It’s been a while since Wasps had a scrum specialist within their ranks on the training field and from what players and fellow coaches have said so far, he’s making a big difference.

Wasps had a strong scrum before his arrival, but it seems to be far more consistent now. The setpiece has laid the foundations for the majority of the side’s successes to rise to second and into the Premiership final.

Matteo Minozzi



Matteo Minozzi of Wasps

 

It was marvellous to see the Italian dive over to score a wonderful try against Bristol Bears in the semi-final. The diminutive full-back had gone nine games without scoring, no matter how good his all-round performances have been, he will want tries against his name to be fully content.

He has made the 15 jersey his own since the restart. Lima Sopoaga threatened to wrestled it from him but the Kiwi’s injury problems saw that fade and Minozzi has thrived.

While his highlight reel featured dazzling breaks and tries for former club Zebre and for Italy, what they didn’t showcase was his incredible defensive abilities. He’s prevented so many tries being scored against Wasps this season and he punches well above his weight under a high ball.

Then there is his kicking game. Where possible, the running option is preferred but when Minozzi puts boot to ball, you realise he is a very capable footballer with an ability to kick to space with a low trajectory when called upon.

While Willie le Roux’s final few months at Wasps were arguably his worst as the miserable 2018/19 campaign drew to a close, the South African was still expected to be a huge miss. But in Minozzi, a problem has been solved.

This from a player who missed a year of action from an horrific knee injury before returning in a World Cup warm-up game, away against Ireland, out of position at inside centre.

A wonderful young talent who Wasps will do very well to keep within their ranks moving forward.

Thibaud Flament

The talented Frenchman has played his last game for Wasps, with him making the switch to Toulouse upon the conclusion of the 2019/20 season.

He was an unknown entering the campaign but before lockdown, he was up there with Wasps’ best performers having emerged from the Premiership Sevens with credit in the bank.



Thibaud Flament of Wasps

With the second row department hit with injuries and international call-ups, the 23-year-old academy forward rose to the challenge making 16 appearances. His last Wasps outing game in the 39-22 victory over Gloucester in March.

The call from his homeland came but Wasps managed to negotiate Flament’s stay until the end of the season having lost Charlie Matthews to Japan and Will Rowlands heavily linked with a move to play Welsh regional rugby.

Sadly, a broken bone in his foot in the build-up to the Northampton Saints match at Franklin’s Gardens, Wasps’ first of the restart, has cruelly ruled him out of featuring during the congested run in.

But his contribution to the cause when depleted of options in the engine room was crucial and will not be forgotten in a hurry.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *