The 2018/2019 season was absolutely one to forget. Injuries, lots of stories of discontent, and with the exception of the victory at Sandy Park, very little to look back on with any pleasure. When I wrote a season preview last year, I raised concerns about how Wasps were looking at 12 when Jimmy Gopperth got injured, and sadly these worries were realised during the year. The two big signings, Brad Shields and Lima Sopoaga, struggled to make big impacts for different reasons, and the less said about some of the players who were leaving performances, the better.
Like many, I was glad when the season was over, hoping Wasps could regroup with the extended pre-season, the names mentioned above could get a full pre-season under their belt, and the other new signings could have opportunity to acclimatise. I enjoyed seeing some of the new signings in action in the premiership sevens, and though Wasps could not quite claim the title, there was plenty to be hopeful about. However, then the familiar pattern of last season started to kick in. In the space of four days there was a:
- Poor performance and result at the Ricoh.
- The never ending question marks about Wasps defence.
- Injury bulletins lacking in positivity. You know the names.
- Early retirements, this time our resident giant Marcus Garratt.
With all this in mind, I genuinely felt that the game against Northampton Saints yesterday took on increased importance. Wasps selected a team which looked to be a decent mixture of youth and experience, as did their opponents, and another poor performance would have raised some real question marks about how Wasps had been spending their pre-season. What then followed was a game which, I hope we all would agree, bought a smile to supporter’s faces.
Wasps ran in six tries, four of which were absolute beauties, and reminiscent of how things used to be. Lovely support lines, offloads, and absolute ambition throughout. A welcome try scoring return from Jack Willis, who replaced the much more prominent Shields, and new signing Sam Wolstenholme, probably Wasps fourth choice scrum half, had a first start to remember. He was brilliant.
Most of all though, this game provided optimism. For me, the most pleasing aspect was the impact the promoted academy lads had. Jacob Umaga played with confidence, Tim Cardall looked the part in the second row, Owain James produced a moment of magic to set up the bonus point score, and Sam Spink’s first touch of the ball and run very nearly produced a memorable try. Such performances provide optimism, because very little (perhaps Umaga aside) is expected of these players when the season starts, but based on yesterday, they may well be pushing for inclusion in the match day squads. Competition for places tends to drive up performance levels in any sport, and yesterday these young players put down a marker to their more senior counterparts suggesting they are not simply happy to be bit part players.
I am a realistic person, and just as it is important to not get carried away when Wasps lose, it is just as important to not do the same when Wasps win what, in effect, is a glorified preseason friendly. What yesterday gave though was some real hope that this season might be a little more enjoyable than the last. That might not be saying much, or even asking for much, but optimism amongst supporters can be a powerful force.
In terms of predictions and hopes for the season, I think a good run in Europe and a return to the top six should be minimum targets. Wasps are unlikely to suffer much with disruption caused by international call ups, and with the influx from the academy, appear to have a bigger squad to choose from to reduce the workload on players during the season.
Let’s enjoy the ride – it is not going to be dull. With Wasps, it never is!
Thanks for reading.