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By Behind the Bench
May 3 2017

Saturday 6 May Ricoh Arena The regular season comes to an intriguing close as the top three is confirmed, but not necessarily in the same order as Saracens know that any win will provide a home semi-final, irrespective of Exeter Chiefs result at Gloucester.

Although Saracens have comprehensively proven that they can win anywhere, the momentum and statement a win would provide ahead of potentially facing Wasps again in the knock out stages is a consideration to an extent, but an element of resting players again would appear to be on the cards with the Edinburgh final just eleven days away at the time of writing. With the exception of the freak result at Allianz Park last season, Saracens have managed to blunt the attack of the visitors in all of the other recent matches against the re-emergent challengers, successfully pressing them back in October's 30-14 win in NW4. They have scored almost 100 points more than Saracens, although their weakness has come into sharper focus of late, that of a defence which has conceded 487 points compared to Sarries' 310. Given the improvement to Sarries' attack in recent weeks, it's an over-simplification to say that they will win on defence, though this was the case in Dublin, then taking chances with (generally) clinical efficiency.
That said, it's been a dramatic last few seasons for Wasps, and, on their day, their attacking play is of a far higher quality than any other side can match, no surprise given the formidable options of their back line. Indeed, the only challenge has been fitting everyone in, though this hasn't generally been to the detriment of their attacking play, as they haven't struggled for tries. In defence, they have struggled at times particularly in the face of the rolling maul and to a lesser extent for a lack of precision as attacks have broken down, two weaknesses which Saracens are ruthless at punishing. The question is, do Wasps make too many mistakes to win the big games at the moment, and hence need to wait a little longer to win silverware again. 
In the aftermath of their defeat at Saracens, their run to the European Quarter Finals began with a 82-14 home win over Zebre before a significant 20-20 draw at Stade Toulousain. Back in the Premiership, they enjoyed a comfortable 31-6 home win over Newcastle Falcon before being edged out in the Anglo Welsh Cup at Sale and roaring back with a 62-10 home success over Worcester Warriors, but back in the Premiership, they were punished on the counter-attack in a 36-18 loss at Gloucester. They recovered to grind out a 34-24 home win over Sale Sharks whilst a depleted line up showed spirit to earn a 26-12 success at Worcester, ahead of a 32-17 home win over Connacht in the first game of the double header, but they controversially lost the second match in Galway as the home side engineered a match winning try despite time being up when a penalty went to touch. Wasps accepted this obvious and damaging mistake with good grace which could be a lesson to some other sides.
The turn of the year saw five straight wins which showed the good and bad sides of their game, beginning with a 40-26 home win over then-form side Bath, having the spirit to come back from conceding two tries in the first four minutes to force a 34-30 win at Newcastle Falcons. Into 2017, and the first game was a 22-16 home win over Leicester, at first glance, a successful negotiation of a tight game, but actually concerning, given that Wasps had established a 19-0 lead after 30 minutes, but unable to find a bonus point in the remaining time left. However, the spirit in the side was clear as a late 17-14 win was secured at home to Toulouse, but an alarming start in the "five point banker" at Zebre saw them trial by ten points on the half-hour mark before finally winning 41-27. An underwhelming Anglo Welsh competition drifted to a close with a double defeat at Exeter and at home to Ospreys, the latter ending a run of home wins in Coventry which began after Saracens win there in late 2015. 
An exciting 35 all draw was earnt at Exeter back in the Premiership, before they succumbed to a surprise 34-28 loss at Sale, even worse as at one stage, they trailed 31-9 after making a series of basic errors, but at least scrambled a losing bonus point. In the seven matches since then, they have won five and lost the other two, beginning with a 35-22 home win over Gloucester, and continuing with one of their most complete performances as they secured a vital 24-3 win at Bath. Worcester were beaten 40-33 at the Ricoh Arena, and with comfortable home and away wins against Leinster in Europe last season, hopes were high of a Quarter Final win in Dublin, but Wasps only threatened fleetingly, as their big game temperament of the 2000s appears yet to have returned. However, they created the perfect response, coming back from a deficit to an impressive Northampton side to win 32-30 in the last play. They backed this up by winning 36-21 at Bristol, but saw their lead at the summit trimmed by the 32-12 loss at Harlequins last time out. 
Looking at possible line ups, Wasps could start with Willie Le Roux at full back, with Christian Wade and Josh Bassett on the wings, outside a centre partnership of Elliot Daly and Kurtley Beale and a half back combination of Jimmy Gopperth and Dan Robson. Forwards-wise, a possible front row includes Matt Mullen, Ashley Johnson and Jake Cooper-Woolley, with a lock combination of Joe Launchbury and Kearnan Myall, with a back row of James Haskell, Thomas Young and Nathan Hughes. For Saracens, Alex Goode could start at full back, with Mike Ellery and Chris Wyles on the wings, outside Marcelo Bosch and Duncan Taylor, and a half back duo of Alex Lozowski and Ben Spencer, Into the pack, and Titi Lamositele, Schalk Brits and Petrus du Plessis are a possible front row, with Mari Itoje and Jim Hamilton at lock, and a back row of Michael Rhodes, Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray. 
So, it's horses for courses. Thrilling attacking play, devastating when in full flow, but which yields mistakes, against a side which just doesn't make them. Winning isn't everything ... or is it?

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03/05/2017 21:47
Thanks Gerard - fascinating selection dilemma!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:05:15:20:57:38 by Darraghgirl.

cammoelder (IP Logged)
05/05/2017 10:57
Excellent assessment. Looking like a full house 30+ at the Ricoh and i hope we give you the game all watching deserve.

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