After last week’s disappointing defeat at the Ricoh, Wasps headed to Toulouse more in hope than expectation. Le Stade Ernest Wallon is not the most accommodating of venues for visiting rugby teams and the bookmakers were predicting a victory for the home side by at least 20 points.
They were not far off, a 15 points difference and ultimately a comfortable victory for the men in red by 42-27. However, at least the men in black were competitive and made a fight of it, and quite literally too. Towards the end of this entertaining encounter there were frequent skirmishes both on and off the ball, which at least demonstrated the home side were rattled.
Rattled maybe, but not unduly ruffled. Five tries to three was about right as they were roared on to victory by their noisy flag waving following and, in doing so, confirmed elimination from the European Champions Cup for their visitors.
Wasps are struggling somewhat and seemingly in a state of transition if press reports of widescale departures at the end of the season are to be believed. Three defeats and a draw from their opening four matches in this competition are not going to help matters or dispel such rumours.
Injuries to some key playing personnel, namely Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes, Brad Shields, Tommy Taylor, Jack Willis, Dan Robson, Joe Simpson and Jimmy Gopperth would hurt any side but for Wasps’ threadbare squad, it is particularly marked. They finished the match with their fourth choice hooker and scrum half, which tells it’s own story.
Here, whilst they were determined and gave it their all until the last, they were just not good enough. They did score three excellent tries from distance, finished with aplomb by their back three of Josh Bassett, Willie Le Roux and Ross Neal, which at times hinted at a shock upset. However, they were let down by their inconsistenty in other areas of their play and to be fair, some excellent handling and slick rugby by the Toulouse team.
Wasps yet again gave further evidence of their notoriously poor play at restarts. Here, twice having scored tries and boosted their position on the scoreboard, they immediately conceded possession from kick offs to put themselves back under pressure. This is really not in the coaches manual, particularly when facing a tide of red shirted Frenchman seeking blood. Dai Young would not have been happy. Neither would he at his side’s slow start to both halves, in which they conceded tries within two minutes of the start of each.
When playing away from home in Europe, on a rotten wet and cold day, there are some very simple rules that need to be adhered to which do not involve coughing up possession easily in your own half and throwing the ball away in contact. Keep the opposition team and crowd quiet, as best you can and for as long as possible.
Rugby is a game all about pressure and playing the game in the right areas. Toulouse kept the pressure on Wasps throughout and, when under a little pressure themselves, they played percentage rugby and put the ball up in the air or down the pitch and forced the mistake. Gain field position, punch holes close to the breakdown, move the ball quickly and then gaps open up. Toulouse were infinitely better at this than Wasps.
Yet for all that, this was a spirited performance from Wasps and arguably far better than their band of loyal black and gold clad spectators could have expected. Supporters who, it was evident, were mostly sat in exposed areas low down by the side of the pitch and became absolutely drenched. Losing is bad enough but getting thoroughly wet through in the process and then not being allowed back into the city centre post match because of riots, is not really what the doctor ordered. It could only happen in France. Shoulders shrugged, c’est la vie. At least the French hospitality was tres bien.
Dai Young had rung a few changes to his starting XV and at fly half Billy Searle certainly seemed to get the back line moving better than his illustrious colleague Lima Sopoaga; both wingers, Bassett and Neal were industrious and caused problems throughout and in the forwards, the front row put in a decent shift as did Charlie Matthews on his Champions Cup debut for Wasps in the boiler house. The whole team’s tackling was never less than committed and they certainly put in a few big hits, but ultimately it was not enough.
With so many injuries and with both territory and possession statistics weighted heavily in the opposition’s favour, the onus inevitably fell on the bigger names to try and do something special and exert their influence. For Wasps, Elliot Daly made a delicious break which led to his teams second try yet full back Le Roux remains something of an enigma. Brilliant one minute, flawed the next. Despite showing a clean pair of heels and running in for Wasps’ second try, he threw a wild pass which was intercepted for Toulouse’s opening score and his sometimes lackadaisical floated passes seem to put his team under unnecessary pressure. It can only be hoped that he can find his range for his teams important forthcoming Premiership matches.
So Toulouse deservedly march on and it would seem that their famous joie de vivre on the rugby pitch is beginning to return.
For Wasps, it’s time to regroup, respond, reenergise and sadly, focus on the league.