Despite having some superstar names on their roster, Wasps had a difficult start to the season.
After 10 games, the club found themselves in 10th place and following a tough beginning to the term, long serving Director of Rugby Dai Young was replaced by Lee Blackett as the leading man for the Coventry-based side.
Initially becoming head coach on an interim basis, Blackett was given the role full-time during lockdown. The reasons why were clear. During his short spell in charge, he'd managed to gather three Premiership wins, picking up scalps against Saracens, London Irish and Gloucester.
With it now official that the former Rotherham Titans boss is the man to keep on progressing Wasps, Blackett prepares for an entirely new challenge during Premiership Rugby’s restart. With so many games close together, the head coach is more than aware that squad depth is going to be important over the next four weeks.
“It is going to be impossible for players to play every game,” Blackett said. “Between all the games, we have just got to manage it as best we can. For me, it is a great opportunity to see some of the squad depth and a great opportunity to see young kids coming in. That is the one thing everyone is excited about.
“That has been the message to the players. What an opportunity to get out there, what an opportunity for the squad and for me, I am most looking forward to seeing what some of our strength in depth is like and how our young kids come through.”
Wasps’ academy has been extremely fruitful in recent years. England international Joe Launchbury came through their system, whilst young stars Jack and Tom Willis are both graduates. There is a new crop of talent awaiting the opportunity to play first team rugby at the Ricoh Arena and Blackett is looking forward to seeing what they can do.
With there being so many fixtures tightly packed in, there will be much change from matchday 23 to matchday 23. As a result, Blackett believes that teams will primarily be focusing on themselves with it being difficult to analyse sides effectively.
“We are predominantly going to spend time focusing on ourselves,” Blackett said. “I think sides are going to chop and change. Quite often when you analyse teams, you look at individuals in those teams and we definitely spend more time focusing on ourselves than we would an opposition.
“I think every team will be looking at it and just thinking how they could pick up as many points as possible come the end of the season. That is what we have done, we are looking at the fixtures and where we can best pick up results. It is impossible to play our best team every single week.”England international Brad Shields also spoke to the press about returning to play. After five months at home, he and his Wasps teammates are raring to go this Sunday when they travel to Franklin’s Gardens to face Northampton Saints.
“It is strange, it sort of feels like we are starting a brand new season,” Shields said. “We are taking each game as it comes sort of thing, but you have definitely got to look at it as an isolated block. For us, because lockdown went so quickly, it almost felt like yesterday that we finished our last game now.”
Now that Blackett has taken over the reins at Wasps, Shields believes that the side are on the same page after their indifferent start to the season, with their new head coach offering a fresh voice following the departure of Dai Young.
“It (lockdown) did give us time to connect as a group,"Shields told TRU. "It did give us time to review for the future and what we wanted to get out of it as a group not just as coaches, but as players. We want to work together, we definitely got everything out in the open and we have come up with a really great plan and hopefully we can execute that in the coming weeks.”
Their first test in an intriguing one. For the opening part of the season, Northampton were a top two side with Wasps in the second half of the league table, but now, Saints are fourth and Wasps fifth with two points separating the teams.
A tale of two halves is putting their respective years mildly, but victory for either side on Sunday afternoon would be the ideal beginning heading into the final stint of the campaign.