Belfast Telegraph

Ulster should be afraid of angry Wasps

 

By Michael Sadlier

What had once seemed like a great plan for celebration - namely the club's 150th anniversary - was never intended to be this downbeat as Wasps try and recover from their worst run of form since 2014.

No one really saw this coming as head coach Dai Young's squad have now lost their last four Premiership games and sit a lowly 10th in the table.

And nobody certainly reckoned on their crippling injury list, which already includes Danny Cipriani and other notables, though at least key playmaker Jimmy Gopperth and powerful back-rower Nathan Hughes return to tonight's starting side.

As for the other big issue, well, the Coventry-based outfit have known for some time that they faced a five-day turnaround between playing Saracens at Allianz Park and going to the Kingspan and, naturally, this has also caused much upset.

Having to go into Europe with so little preparation time has clearly exercised Young's mind this week as he has put it out there that such situations are unacceptable and downright unfair.

Young has a point, and having that run of losses along with the injury list has only fuelled the sense that, right now, nothing is going right for Wasps.

And yet Young's irritation might yet work in Wasps' favour, if only in prompting a circle the wagons approach which could see an unexpectedly huge response from the Ricoh Arena-based squad. Backs to the wall stuff and all that.

Of course, on closer inspection, Wasps' poor run in the Premiership has come against three sides currently situated in the league's top five with the losses against leaders Saracens and title holders Exeter Chiefs both being away from Coventry, though the home defeat to Bath is harder to explain.

So the general feeling is that a revival is highly likely, though that turnaround beginning tonight is maybe not so feasible.

"It's a good time for us to switch to a new competition with the slate wiped clean," Young insisted yesterday.

"We go to Belfast with a smile on our face ready to enjoy the experience as that's when we play our best rugby."

They certainly have a decent enough side with Joe Launchbury back in the engine room after being rested for Saracens.

Gopperth's game-management and kicking will also be vital, as will his link play for a backline including Elliot Daly, Willie le Roux and the returning Christian Wade who will all, ideally, want to play at pace and with width.

But to get front-foot ball they will need Hughes operating at optimum level and James Haskell at his destructive best.

And an area where they might unsettle Ulster is up front where the home side's set-piece work has hardly been terrifying opponents while, elsewhere, breakdown dominance has also been a bit of a struggle.

So, with low expectations, Wasps might just feel that they might as well go for it.

Despite that notion, they still come to the Kingspan as a side trying to find some form, which is no way to hit Belfast on a Friday night.

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