Wasps Rugby Club have had a busy few days. On Thursday 10th May, five current players were called up to tour South Africa in England colours, with first caps potentially looming for Dan Robson and Jack Willis, combined with the well deserved selection to the sadly outgoing Danny Cipriani. Brad Shields, who joins Wasps after his Super Rugby commitments are over was also included, joining established internationals Elliot Daly and Joe Launchbury to complete the representatives. On Friday 11th May, the club then announced the signings of two flankers, two centres and a fly half from championship clubs, who will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of fellow lower league recruits Guy Thompson, Josh Bassett, Tom Cruse and Alex Reider, in becoming established first team players over the next couple of seasons. Those five newcomers must be incredibly excited about this opportunity, and it would be really pleasing if they can make the step up required and prove they belong at a higher level.
There are a couple of players though who may be feeling slightly aggrieved at the time of writing. One might be Christian Wade. It seems almost inevitable now that he is overlooked for England, regardless of how well he is playing, without any real explanation. I can guess the reasons behind it; previously he has been criticised for his tackling technique, defensive positioning and his ability under the high ball. Others may feel differently, but I feel these are areas he has improved on this season. More pertinently, there is not a single individual in that England squad who is a perfect player, and does not have any weaknesses. Rather than focus on what are perceived and questionable difficulties, it is galling that there appears to be a lack of attention and excitement about what Wade could bring to to the national team, with his consistent ability to score tries and beat defenders continually overlooked. Are these strengths really ones England can afford to ignore based on recent performances?
What I find just as frustrating is the hypocrisy of picking Denny Solomona ahead of Wade, especially given the bizarre ‘warning’ aimed at Cipriani from Eddie Jones about not tolerating bad behaviour. Solomona has had a pretty eventful England career to date, despite only playing for the national team twice. In the past twelve months, he managed to put in a fairly woeful defensive performance on his international debut, and was then sent home from a training squad a few months later following behavioural issues. That is without even mentioning a season ending ban for alleged on field comments to another player whilst on club duty. He is still on the plane though, probably because he also scored a brilliant try in his first match, and went on to score a fair few for Sale this term as well. Like all of us, he is not without his faults, with his strengths outnumbering these. I have no issue with him personally, but what I then do not understand is why Jones is happy to put aside those previous indiscretions by selecting him in one breath, whilst warning Cipriani about his behaviour and ignoring Wade in another? I am slightly confused by it all, and Wade must be reflecting upon what more he can do to get a look in, when you also consider relatively unproven players like Nathan Earle are jumping ahead of him now in terms of pecking order.
The other player who may feel a bit aggrieved is someone who has had a great season. Jake Cooper-Woolley endured a difficult 2016-2017 season, with injury a fairly constant theme. I think Wasps really missed him in the final last year, both in terms of his set piece work and his open play contributions. This season he has been really consistent, in all aspects of his play, and has established himself as one of the best tight heads in the league. England are fairly well stocked in this department, and Jones has opted for Harry Williams and Kyle Sinkler as his two number 3s, both of whom are very good players. Cooper-Woolley must be banging the door down though, given his brilliant form, and I would be delighted for him if he gets an opportunity in the next twelve months to transfer his club performances to the international stage. I have no doubt he can make the step up, and it would be just reward for the consistency he has shown.
Selection is very subjective, and I am probably not qualified to challenge who makes the cut and who does not, but I know this for certain. For Christian Wade and Jake Cooper-Woolley, opportunity knocks next weekend. Both could be going up directly against England squad picks in Saracens shirts, in Nathan Earle and Mako Vunipola respectively. What a fantastic chance to show Eddie Jones what he is missing out on and to prove him wrong. For the five players selected for England, what a confidence boost going into the the semi final, and an opportunity to prove Jones right. I firmly believe that if they play to their strengths, and stick together for the full eighty minutes, Wasps will be heading to Twickenham the week after. Thanks for reading.