Less than two weeks to go before the season starts. It has seemed like an absolute age since Wasps played out a fifteen a side version of sevens in the blazing sunshine at Allianz Park, against the slightly surreal backdrop of a royal wedding with James Haskell in attendance! Since then, England looked predictably predictable against a fairly average South African team when the going got tough, and got found out, with Danny Cipriani’s return probably the only real highlight of the tour, from a Wasps perspective. Dan Robson must wonder if he is ever going to get an opportunity, but given no one really covered themselves in glory, Jonny May aside, he was probably better off out of it. I am not going to comment on what happened outside a club in Jersey recently with Danny boy because I wasn’t there, unlike apparently half of the United Kingdom based on social media feeds. I am baffled by the RFU’s investigation though, and would agree with Gloucester’s stance that this seems unprecedented and unnecessary.
Anyway, onto this season. Like many, I have not got a clue what is going to happen. The optimist in me thinks Wasps are going to have a good one. We seem to have recruited strongly, have bought in some players with points to prove like Kieran Brookes and Charlie Matthews, and are due better fortune with injuries. Wasps fans would all come up with different versions of starting fifteens, but if we do have better luck, bumps and bruises wise, all of those starting fifteens would be very strong.
However, In more pessimistic moments, I look at the back row and though we now seem really well stocked at number eight, worry there will be some pressure on Joe Atkinson to adjust quickly to the Premiership if we lose Thomas Young for any length of time this side of Christmas. Most of all, I am a bit nervous about the 10-12 axis with Cipriani gone, Jimmy Gopperth not getting any younger, and now nursing an injury following Saturday’s friendly. Throw in Lima Sopoaga is not likely to appear until October, and Kyle Eastmond moving on, Wasps are potentially looking at trotting out at Sixways on the 1st September with a brand new combination in those jerseys.
Seems likely to me that the starting fly half will be Bily Searle. I confess to know little about him, but started to take an interest back in January when it became common knowledge that he was on his way here. Like most fans, I watched a few clips of him in action on YouTube, read a few reviews on him, and visited a couple of Bristol forums to get a feel for if his loss was considered a blow. Mixed response is probably the best way to describe the feedback. Some seemed to suggest he was over rated, others felt his potential was huge and Wasps would reap the rewards.
What does not appear to be in doubt is he has a real opportunity now if Gopperth is out, to stake his case for a run in the team. It seems more than possible that he will be pulling on the number ten shirt against Worcester, and it will be his to lose from that point. It would be brilliant to see a young player plucked from the championship put his hand up and give Dai Young something to think about when both Gopperth and Sopoaga are available. I wish him well.
Outside him, the twelve shirt is also up for grabs. Juan De Jongh, Gaby Lovobalavu and new boy Michael Le Bourgeois all have lovely surnames and are the most likely to be in contention. My guess would be Dai Young would want experience outside of Searle, so would expect De Jongh to get the nod, with Elliot Daly moving back into the thirteen jersey.
The first few weeks will be absolutely intriguing, and I cannot wait to see how it unwinds. It is worth remembering how badly things went quite early on for Wasps in 2017-18, and how a good run of games accelerated the club back up the table. Nobody is hoping for a similar start, but as Exeter also showed in 2016-17, a bad start does not always lead to a bad finish.
Work commitments prevent me making Friday’s friendly, but with tickets booked for the Worcester and Exeter matches, I anticipate plenty to discuss and debate.Enjoy the season and safe travels to all braving the M6 this Friday evening!