There is a strong, online ranting culture that's driving Rugby this season. A lot of dissatisfaction in how teams are structured, what it takes to be picked for an international squad and most of all, refereeing decisions. As much as we all try to promote the sport healthily, it's clear that fans aren't happy. The Bath vs Gloucester game was a great example of how the game is wallowing in toxicity. Is it the fault of fans? Going into this game, Leicester and Wasps fans have been starved of quality outings over the past few weeks, let's hope that one set of fans went home happy...
Those Red Cards...
Right, it's always dodgy being a pundit and talking about refereeing decisions. You have to walk the fine line of not slating anyone whilst still understanding why everyone's so upset about certain decisions. The first red card is a blatant red. It's almost surprising that the ref missed it in real time, but despite arguments between the officials, it was eventually called by the TMO and Weise saw the inside of the naughty corner for the second time in a year. There is a huge issue with the clear out technique in professional Rugby. It's become an almost NFL style collision. I think that's predominantly down to poor coaching; that's the only way I can explain how often this is happening and the players who are usually involved in these scuffles. Since when did we start tucking shoulders and throwing ourselves off of our feet into a ruck, we aren't still stuck in the 70s? As for Brookes' red card, I do think there is reason for debate. On the one hand, it did look as if the elbow was tucked, however on the reverse angle you could see his arm bounce off of his inside mans torso. The contact to the head was minimal; although Lavanini's dive would tell you otherwise. If he was impacted so hard for that head collision that he dropped the ball and flopped to the floor, why was there no HIA? The ref also said there were no mitigating factors... Well, surely the mitigating factor is the inside mans body position. It's potentially worth a yellow, due to poor technique and a lack of reaction speed, however red is very harsh and in CMK's attempts to be consistent, he actually just left us with more questions as to why the severity of outcomes is the same despite the to events outcomes being wholly different. Then towards the climax of the match, Leibenberg was sent off for a tackle in the air against Bassett after a slow, floating pass went wayward; no arguing with that one. All in all, it didn't really have much of an impact on the game as Wasps looked worse fighting against 14 men, heck, looked worse against 13 men, but still a talking point that we might have to address in an article later this week.
Although it was far from a vintage game for spectators, you couldn't deny Leicester's dominance. Their pack is beginning to resemble the factory of fear that imposed itself across the noughties. Before Weise's red, he was making ground for fun and is quickly becoming one of the most efficient and tenacious ball carriers in the league. Cole still roughs sides up at scrum time and new singing Montoya is the real deal around the fringes; that's a handful of tries in as many games for the Argentinian hooker. The man of the match for me on the day however, was Cyle Brink. Wasps are being plagued with injury problems, especially in the back row, so Brink capitalised on that and gave them a dose of their own medicine. Turnover after turnover, dominant tackle after dominant tackle, Brink's physicality disrupted Wasps' momentum and as a Wasps fan myself, I found myself in awe at how our pack couldn't move him once he had clamped over at ruck time. Even in the back line, Leicester chose to use power over expansion and it worked tremendously. Steward in particular, showed real determination and force when hitting into the line; Wasps really couldn't contain him.
Worrying for Wasps
As good as Leicester looked in particular exchanges, they were made to look so much better by an opposing side who just didn't turn up. I've had a day to think over what went wrong in this game, but I think it's a pretty simple set of factors. Only when Bath conceded 100 points in two games have I been concerned about a sides form, Wasps are beginning to look even worse. Other than a very hard fought, but painful to watch Worcester match, Wasps have now lost three in four, and those three matches they lost quite considerably conceding over 150 points. With the announcement of Taylor and Rowlands leaving over the last few weeks, and with Rowlands having little to no game time over the last fortnight, I really struggled to understand why they were in the starting lineup and it showed. Rowlands put in the worst performance of a Wasps player all season (and I saw Sopoaga concede twenty points to Harlequins single handedly). He was caught on camera on three occassions, pulling away from a tackle; is that due to wanting fitness for Wales? Atkinson tried his best despite appallingly slow service from Vellacott, Bassett and Kibirige barely saw the ball all game, Minozzi was completely ineffectual on the counter, Wasps' front five were outmuscled in scrum time, they were destroyed by an erratic Leicester outfit across the board. The most worrying area of the game for Wasps fans has to be how the side comes out in the first quarter of the game. We have conceded first on three out of four occasions, and a lot of these concessions come in flurries. 13 tackles missed before the 10 minute mark, a handful of dropped balls, three penalties conceded, these are not stats for a top four side, these are stats for a side slap bottom of the table. The injuries have no truly taken their toll, with Wasps looking laboured, tired and genuinely afraid of contact. Although Morris, T Willis and Shields have looked excellent in extended periods for Wasps recently, the front five they are working with are in absolutely shocking form. West hasn't looked the same since rejoining after his brief England stint, Brookes looks unfit and gave away so many penalties after failing to roll away fast enough, and the only player in that front five who puts a shift in every week in Gaskell, is having to overplay and live on the edge just to win any of Wasps' own ball. Rant over, Wasps need an urgent game plan fix.
Half Backs Running Riot
Going into this game, I felt Wasps' had the edge in personnel in the half backs. Atkinson has been on fire more recently, Vellacott has looked hungry to rejoin the starting lineup and then Umaga on the bench is an excellent option. However, Wigglesworth and Henry looked fantastic in this match up. Wigglesworth kicked perfectly all game, as he usually does, and supplied a platform for Leicester's forwards in particular to dominate. His service to Henry was fast, fluid and without any errors. When Henry had the ball, he looked unpredictable yet incredibly calm, completing some audacious banana kicks and really hurting Wasps' territory game. He also wasn't afraid to put a tackle in when it mattered, joining the defensive line and closing off the 10/12 channel with ease.
Julian Montoya - Took his try expertly well, sniped around the fringes like a half back on steroids and put in some key tackles to knock Wasps backwards.
Cyle Brink - Our MOTM on the day, hurt Wasps in every exchange, stealing ball and knocking Wasps' ball carriers backwards.
Brad Shields - Despite being on the losing side, Shields' quality is the only thing keeping Wasps in games at the moment. He looks fit, sharp and in the form of his life. As captain, he might need to show more leadership to rejuvenate his side when down, but his example should have been enough to do that it's own.
Freddie Stewart - Great with ball in hand, effective when ball was put to boot, he looked like the real deal. If he can string together effective performances like this, with his size and profile, we could find him in the England setup soon.
Will Rowlands - Absolute shocker from someone I've previously coined as Mr Consistent. Shying from tackles, committing silly rucking penalties and looking like a dear in headlights around the fringes.
Kieran Brookes - Dominated at scrum time, gave away countless penalties at the ruck and got red carded for his troubles, a match to forget.
Josh Bassett - Didn't realise he was on the pitch until he was involved in a red card exchange in the final few minutes. Uncharacteristically quiet all game.
Tom West - Another player who looked anonymous on the day, only time we saw the camera panning to him was when he was giving away penalties at the scrum or in the ruck.