My word, this season is something else. Somehow, Wasps are in 5th, but looking at the remaining fixtures, it will take something very special for the club to make the play offs, and there is little evidence that they can spring an upset if they do. If ever a game summed up the term it was the last fixture against Leicester on Saturday 2nd March. Moments of brilliance (Marcus Watson nailing individual try of the season), plenty of indiscipline, some questionable decision making, an injury to a star player, and some farcical refereeing to complete the set.
It is well reported that Wasps have had some issues to address this season. Crippling injuries, unexpected departures, rumours of unrest in the camp, the list goes on and on. For me though, I think one of the biggest problems this season has been this, and it needs addressing. Inside centre.
I wrote at the start of the season when Jimmy Gopperth got injured that I was really concerned about the impact his absence was going to have, given Kyle Eastmond had also been moved on. Wasps attacking play over the past couple of seasons has been based around having a playmaker at inside centre. It helped Danny Cipriani shine, it caused issues for opposition defences, and I am in no doubt that both Gopperth’s and Eastmond’s absence, combined with Willie Le Roux’s mixed form, has had a huge impact on Lima Sopoaga. It does not take a rugby expert to identify that Wasps have not settled on who to play in this shirt with Gopperth still out, and have not really adapted their playing style to not having a natural replacement in this position. By my count, there have been three players tried there, all with mixed results. Juan de Jongh, Michael Le Bourgeois and Gaby Lovobalavu have all worn the shirt, with the latter the current incumbent. All of these three have had their moments in the role, but I think it is fair to say that two of them are more suited to the thirteen jersey, and the other is adapting to the demands of top flight rugby.
My concern is that at present, there does not appear to be a long term solution in hand for this position, aside from Jimmy. It is great that he is back soon, but with Sopoaga now injured, it seems most likely that he will be wearing a ten on his shirt rather than an twelve when he returns. Looking at the signings for next season which have been confirmed so far, Malaki Fekitoa is a possible option, but he seems to be most comfortable at outside centre. If Gopperth can stay fit, he will be there for 2019-20, but what is going to happen if he does not, or if Sopoaga’s form does not pick up when he returns? Dai Young has said previously he wants two quality players for each position, and I am not sure Wasps have that covered for this shirt number.
I am not one normally for criticising the club, as it is very easy to do this from the outside, when you have no real idea about some of the pressures that the organisation is under. However, and I know he had his injury and suspension issues, I still think letting Kyle Eastmond move on was an error, in hindsight. I would suggest that Wasps would have benefited hugely from him still being around this term, and have missed the alternative option he provided when Gopperth was not available. Others may disagree.
I do feel Wasps need to address this pretty quickly, because there is growing evidence that this is becoming one of the most pivotal positions in the game, particularly if the club wants to return to the attacking brand of rugby of the last two years. I do not believe this can happen without having a ‘ball player’ in this role. There seems to be a fair bit of excitement about Jacob Umaga’s return, who to date has play most of his Rugby at twelve and fifteen. Could he be an option there as he continues to develop? Better placed people than me will be able to respond this that question, but it could be a consideration moving forward.
As always with Wasps, it won’t be dull over the next few weeks, especially as there are a few rumours doing the rounds regarding the return of an old favourite in the coaching department. I will watch on with interest. Thanks for reading.