Wasps lost their second home game of the season on Sunday in a dull game against Bath. The first half was even between the two teams, as Rhys Priestland and Jimmy Gopperth shared the points, but Bath pulled away in the second half, and victory was assured when Semesa Rokoduguni crossed for a late score. Here are five things we learned during this game:
Wasps miss Cipriani
It was a big blow for Wasps when Danny Cipriani went off against Harlequins with torn knee ligaments, but I don’t think many realised that it would have this much of a negative impact on the Wasps side. Jimmy Gopperth started at fly-half, and although he’s played most of his career in this position, last year he was playing at inside centre. After his performance on Sunday, it almost seemed as if his days at fly-half were over. He struggled to inject any real pace into the Wasps back line and often looked predictable and easy to defend. This meant they couldn’t release the exciting outside backs, such as Christian Wade and Josh Bassett.
The West Midlands club were such an exciting side to watch last year, but they are struggling to recreate that form this season. They have an attacking game plan which centres around a style of running rugby and when their main playmaker is missing it has an effect on the whole team.
Bath’s defence is ruthless
Despite the two blips against Newcastle and Northampton, Bath’s defence has been superb this year. Their game plan is based around their defence and they have won some big games this season because of it. This one, however, was probably the most impressive. To beat Wasps at home is an impressive feat, but to do it conceding no tries is even better. Wasps were the best attacking side last season, and Bath made them look ordinary in their own back yard.
Bath defended for most of this game and looked happy to do so. The best defences in the game, see it as an opportunity to impose their game plan, rather than just waiting to get the ball back. This mentality is why their defence has been so impressive this season. They will happily let the opposition have possession, because they trust their defence so much, and work so hard as a unit. The Bath side made an amazing 174 tackles in Sunday’s game and never looked like losing.
Sam Underhill deserves the England No. 7 shirt
After impressing on his debut against Northampton by making 23 tackles, Sam Underhill went even better this weekend, making 26 against Wasps. This shows how hard he works defensively and Bath look like they have definitely got their money’s worth in the flanker. His low centre of gravity means he tackles people so low it is impossible to go over him or around him, so he rarely misses tackles. This is enough for some players, but he finds tackles instead of waiting for them to come to him. He reminds me of Lewis Moody in the way he hunts down the opposition and puts his body on the line.
Underhill was given his first start for England on the summer tour of Argentina and, given Haskell’s omission from the latest England EPS squad, it appears as if Underhill will battle it out with Tom Curry for the England No. 7 shirt. Looking at Underhill’s start to the season, it would be impossible to leave him out.
Priestland is Bath’s number one fly half
Much of this summer’s talk in Bath was about the return of local boy Freddie Burns to the Rec. The 27-year-old came back to his hometown in a swap deal with England man George Ford and many people thought he would make the No. 10 shirt his own. Burns, however, has yet to start a game for Bath this season due to the performances of Rhys Priestland.
The Welshman has started the season in brilliant form and his style of play suits Bath’s game plan well. He isn’t the most creative, but that is not how Bath play as they have a solid defensive game and kick a lot. He has simplified his game by just concentrating on what he is good at, which is kicking and controlling field position, and looks as if he’s back to his best. He’s accurate from the tee and is always looking to keep the scoreboard ticking over by slotting drop goals. Priestland has barely put a foot wrong this season and when he’s playing like this, you struggle to make a case to drop him.
How can Eddie Jones ignore Semesa Rokoduguni?
Semesa Rokoduguni has started the year in unbelievable form, scoring some incredible tries along the way. He scored the only try in this game and, when he’s in this form, how can he be ignored for international duty for England?
Eddie Jones has clarified that there are parts of his game that Rokoduguni needs to work on, but when he offers that much raw talent and is capable of moments of magic, he has to find a place in the squad. He doesn’t get exposed in defence and his kicking game is just okay, but he can create a try out of thin air and that ability is very rare in rugby these days. Rokoduguni has single-handedly won games for Bath this season and he could do the same for England in the November Tests. Surely if he continues in this manner Eddie Jones won’t be able to ignore him for much longer.
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