Gutted. That is the only way I can describe my reaction following the news today of some further Wasps departures, with four players confirmed as moving on to pastures new. Two leaving are Paul Doran-Jones and Brendan Macken, who have both struggled to make the match day squads consistently, with the latter rumoured to be moving to Bristol, where hopefully he will enjoy a regular run to showcase his quality.
The two that really ‘sting’ though, pun aside, are Kyle Eastmond and Matt Symons. These are two players who have had fairly wretched luck with injuries since they joined the club, but will go down as two of my favourite players to watch when they have taken the field, for very different reasons.
Kyle Eastmond is a player who I first really started paying attention to when he played against Argentina in 2013, where he had an absolute stormer in the second test. His distribution and timing at inside centre was brilliant, with him rounding off a great performance by dancing through a couple of players to score a memorable try. When Wasps acquired his services as injury cover for Kurtley Beale, I was absolutely made up. He struggled to make much of an impact initially, but seemed to be just coming into form before he picked up a bad injury against Gloucester, which ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign. This season, he has only actually made seven appearances due to injury, and in my view, a slightly harsh six week ban. (Was the first tackle against Harlequins really a red card offence?) When he has played this year he has been absolute quality, and has showed what a special player he is. His comeback game against Newcastle was one of the best halves of rugby produced by any player this season until fate again intervened, this time in the form of Sinoti Sinoti who decided to hurdle into his chin, leading to another spell out. Him and Danny Cipriani seemed to have built up a fantastic relationship both on and off the pitch, and I don’t think it is coincidental that two of Cipriani’s best performances this season, Gloucester at home and Newcastle away, have come when Eastmond has been outside of him. Injuries and suspension have denied him the opportunity to really prove his value to the club, and I hope he enjoys better fortune wherever he ends up.
Matt Symons enjoyed a really good first season in 2016/2017. He featured in the majority of the games for the club, making twenty six appearances in all, bringing a real physical presence to the second row. By the end of the season, he was established as first choice pick alongside Joe Launchbury, starting the semi final and final. One of the most memorable games last season was that semi final victory against Leicester. Symons was on until the final whistle, smashing into the breakdown just as ferociously in the eightieth minute as he did in the first. He offers a bit of an edge which I feel Wasps have lacked this term, and is like an ‘old school’ second row in this regard. As an example of this, I was also at the Worcester game last year when he came on at half time, with Dai Young praising his impact in the Coventry Telegraph:
“I thought Matt Symons came on and took physicality to another level,” he said.
“When they were trying to slow our ball down at the breakdown, legally by the way, he made them think twice about it, because he absolutely smashed the rucks.
Wasps are blessed to have some fantastic second rows, but against tough physical teams, like the two we are hoping to play in successive weekends before the month is out, he would be a good option to have in the match day squad. Injury this season have denied him the chance to build on the form he showed last term, which is a real shame, as I think he was getting close to England recognition. I have no idea why he was not picked to tour Argentina in the summer based on how he finished the year, but then I often find myself raising my eyebrows about most of Eddie Jones’s squads. His blog is also well worth a read, with his articles on mental health and injury recovery honest as well as an insightful snapshot into the pressures of modern rugby.
I have complete faith in Dai Young, and I have no doubt that such decisions have not been taken lightly and without good reason. I think both of these players will be missed though, as they have offered a point of difference when fitness has allowed them to showcase their abilities.Wherever these two end up, I will take an interest in their progress and impact, as I am sure other Wasps fans will.
Best of luck to all of those moving on. As the saying goes, once a Wasp, always a Wasp….