'Quins have had a tough start to 2021. With transfer rumours rife around the squad, Gustard leaving to Italy and confirmed departures of key players hitting the headlines, it felt like a real mismatch with them booked to face an in-form Wasps side currently on the hunt for the top spot. With the game also taking place at the Ricoh, it felt like an inevitability that this game was going to go one way. Sure, some major admissions in Wasps' starting XV was always going to give the Coventry side a headache going into the clash... But this game must have felt more like a knockout than a migraine...
Marcus 'the Magician' Smith
Umaga vs Smith is one of my favourite stylistic matchups each year, with both young stand-offs putting in classy performances well above their years. Last time around, you could argue Smith got the better of Umaga, beating him man for man for one of the best scores of the season; however, Umaga did strike back by turning the game on it's head and creating two scoring opportunities that led to Wasps eventual victory. This time around, there was no questioning Smith's dominance throughout the game. He marshalled the territory game expertly, pinning Wasps back with deep touch finders and exploiting Sopoaga's complete anonymity in the air to create ample scoring opportunities. With ball in hand, he threw some deft, shallow passes to Esterhuizen to absolute bulldoze Umaga's channel. He covered in the backfield well, linking up with Brown and Lynagh to produce one of the best defensive masterclasses we've witnessed thus far this season. He was faultless throughout and proved that he's more than ready to take the international game by storm. Conversely, Umaga had one of his worst games in a Wasps shirt. Unfortunately, he's been poor all season, showing glimpses of creativity when it counts but being let down regularly by his appalling handling. He took Bath to the sword last weekend in attack, but that was because they didn't target his flat-runners, even then he made a couple of silly handling errors during that game which Priestland capitalised upon. Umaga desperately needs to improve his tactical game, choosing when to play and when to kick is becoming a bit of an issue in that midfield. You can't just judge him off of this game because the entire side had a bad day at the office, but you can see repeated problems occurring in his game that is leading to Wasps heavier defeats.
The End for Sopoaga?
I hate targeting players, especially after heavy defeats such as this, but I think it's time for Wasps to admit defeat on the experiment with Sopoaga. He has become such a selection headache for this side, that the moments of class he showcases twice a season are far from being enough to consider him a starter, or even a bench rotation option. He had an absolute mare at the back, looking indecisive in the air, completely out of position to take deeper kicks and falling off of tackles like he wasn't even present. It seems as if he's only included in the matchday 23 just for his place kicking ability; that is far from enough to warrant a starting place. Minozzi and Miller are two much better options at 15, Umaga and Atkinson are two younger, much more compatible options at 10 and that leaves Sopoaga deep in the squad rotation picks. His contract comes to an end this season and I think Wasps would be overly-sentimental to even consider offering him a new deal after the last year of performances. Out of the 49 points Harlequins scored, he was at fault for the first 20 in the first 30 minutes too; that's a horrific ratio to have on your head.
Quins Blitz Defence
Don't you hate the saying, 'a good defence, is a great offence'? Yeah, so do I, but never has it rang more true, than during this monumental effort we saw on Sunday. The blitz defence has been a staple of modern Rugby for well over a decade now, but over the previous two years, we've seen it exchanged by pod-based, dominant collision orientated defence. Quins just proved the blitz era is still alive and well, closing down Wasps in the stand off channel all game. Whether it was the forwards trying to make ground around the fringes or Umaga shaping to pass out wide, Evans, Esterhuizen and Dombrandt hit Wasps so fast that the collisions didn't need to be dominant. Even when Wasps reverted to a flatter attacking structure, the blitz in the centres shut down any opportunities to expand the play and kept Wasps in a breakdown box. No momentum, no chance of breaking the gainline and being pushed back over your previous breakdown meant that Evans could secure ball pretty much untouched. If Willis, Barbeary and Shields were there altogether, would the same happen? I'm not sure... Pearce referee's the breakdown in a very traditional way, regarding the team going forward as the ones always in control, I'm not sure Willis would have been able to stop the onslaught going backwards even if he was on the pitch.
Danny Care, Take a Bow
Can we all just remember that Care has 84 caps for a reason? He is still, at 34 years of age, absolutely class. Every option he picked, wasn't just the right option, but the option no could predict. The speed of Quin's recycled ball paired with his hot hands meant that Smith was always running at turning backs. His frenetic speed and constant tempo is very similar to young Harry Randall, but his decision making and pin-point accurate boot is far more reminiscent of Wigglesworth... Basically, he's still the full package. He really hurt Wasps and poor your Porter just couldn't keep up with the speed Care worked at around the breakdown. He didn't break the line or do much sniping, but his service was so fast that Wasps couldn't blitz up quick enough to make a dominant first hit.
Marcus Smith - MOTM performance from the young stand off, yet again showing his class in every faucet of the game.
Danny Care - Caused Wasps major problems in the 10/12 channel, supplied one of the most efficient services I've seen thus far this season.
André Esterhuizen - Made Fekitoa look largely anonymous all game, put in some huge hits and huge carries, broke the gainline on countless occassions.
Will Evans - Breakdown freak, stealing ball for fun and made himself a nuisance every time the ball hit the deck.
Jacob Umaga - Worst game in a Wasps shirt, dropped the ball and got caught napping in every other phase, looked visibly shaken after the first ten minutes.
Lima Sopoaga - The worst performance on the pitch, Sopoaga now looks far from Premiership quality. The backfield became a real mess after the first quarter of an hour and led to Harlequins' commanding early lead.
Will Porter - He's young and he'll bounce back, kicked aimlessly and often way too shallow, slightly too slow off of the base of each breakdown.
Photo Credit Copyright: David Davies/PA Wire/PA Images