For the third consecutive season, Wasps battled their defensive woes to finish in the top four. This year, with a flurry of new recruits, Dai Young’s side will be looking to halt the respective rises of Saracens and Exeter and win their first Premiership title since 2008.
Last Season: Wasps would’ve been disappointed with their performance last season – the men from Coventry failed to qualify from a friendly Champions Cup pool, while they were unable to topple Saracens at Allianz Park in the playoffs.
Strengths: Dai Young’s side possess an illustriously talented and effective back-line. What sets Wasps apart from the other teams with star attackers is that their game going forward is well structured and doesn’t wholly rely on individual brilliance. Elsewhere, the players Wasps utilise are adaptable, and expect to see a subtle change in the way Dai Young’s men play this season: with a stronger forward pack, Wasps have the ability to control and come through the attritional games as well as score a bundle of tries.
Weaknesses: The issue surrounding Wasps over the past seasons has been their defence. Dai Young’s philosophy is to attempt to make sure that his side will always score more tries than the opposition. As we saw against Saracens in the Premiership semi-final, this is a flawed tactic. Nevertheless, Wasps look to be well equipped across the park, though they may need Lima Sapoaga to adapt to Premiership life faster than expected given Jimmy Gopperth’s long-term injury.
Recruitment Rating: In replacing Cipriani with Sapoaga and Haskell with Shields, Wasps have recruited two high-quality men who’ll play a vital role in their title hopes. Dai Young has also utilised an underappreciated section of the market – the Championship – in signing Michael Le Bourgeois and Billy Searle, among others. That said, there are numerous decent players leaving Coventry, which Wasps may regret should they find themselves with injury problems. 8/10.
Key Man: England international Joe Launchbury exemplifies the values that Wasps need to adopt if they are to threaten the elite clubs in Europe. He is a strong leader: hardworking and industrious. Also, Willie Le Roux is essential to Wasps’ attacking game from full-back. His revival last season was heartening to see from a neutrals perspective, as well as helping to power Wasps into the playoffs.
Young gun to watch: After his brother was denied a spot in England’s touring squad due to injury, Tom Willis will be looking to follow in Jack’s footsteps. Tom, a young back-rower, is most likely to find game-time at blindside flanker given the recruitment of Nizaam Carr to back up Nathan Hughes.
Prediction: Though many believe Saracens to be a juggernaut, it has proven to be remarkably difficult to retain a Premiership title over the past few years. If Wasps can bed their new recruits in successfully and sort their defence out, there is no reason why Dai Young’s side cannot battle with Exeter and Saracens. A slightly outlandish prediction, but with Wasps’ frightening quality I can see them finishing 1st (Winners).
Ins: Brad Shields (Hurricanes), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Joe Atkinson, Ross Neal (both London Scottish), Michael Le Bourgeois (Bedford Blues), Ben Morris (Nottingham), Billy Searle (Bristol Bears), Ambrose Curtis (Manawatu), Charlie Matthews (Harlequins), Nizaam Carr (Stormers), Keiran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Zurab Zhvania (Stade Francais), Tom West, Will Stuart (both promoted from academy).
Outs: Marty Moore (Ulster), Guy Thompson, Kyle Eastmond (both Leicester Tigers), Guy Armitage, Alex Lundberg (Ealing Trailfinders), Will Owen (Nottingham), Danny Cipriani (Gloucester), James Haskell (Northampton Saints), Matt Symons (Harlequins), Brendan Macken (London Irish), Paul Doran-Jones (Released), Sam Jones (Retired).