Wasps’ Premiership turnaround, Leinster’s Pro14 dominance and Owen Farrell’s ban

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Wasps flanker Jack Willis scores for Wasps during their high-scoring victory over Bristol Bears on Sunday
Wasps flanker Jack Willis scores for Wasps during their high-scoring victory over Bristol Bears on Sunday

The matches came thick and fast in the Premiership over the past week, with Wasps firmly establishing their play-off credentials, albeit in some disappointingly one-sided games.

Meanwhile, Leinster sowed up a third straight Pro 14 title and now turn their attention to an Owen Farrell-less Saracens as the Champions Cup resumes.

Here are some of rugby union’s talking points from the last seven days.

Wasps’ unlikely success story

The fact that only six of the 23 that featured in the Premiership final in 2017 are still at Wasps gives you an idea of the turbulent few years that have taken place in Coventry since Dai Young’s side came within a kick of the title three years ago.

An exodus of key talent and financial problems coincided with a slump in form that saw Young depart earlier this year.

Wasps sources initially suggested they would scour the world for a replacement, before promoting assistant coach Lee Blackett for the top job amidst a managerial restructure.

The turnaround has been remarkable, with Blackett masterminding an extraordinary charge up the table, with Wasps now in second place with two rounds to go after thumping Bristol 59-35 at the Ricoh, their second 50-point haul in five days.

“What you see now is a squad that has a bit more youth to it than we had in the past,” explained club captain Joe Launchbury, a man who stayed put when fellow internationals such as Elliot Daly, Nathan Hughes and Danny Cipriani all upped sticks.

“There is some really exciting talent and I’ve always made it very clear that I felt that has been coming. I also think it creates a great environment when you have a group of young guys who love the club, I think it plays a huge part in success moving forward. We are riding that wave at the moment.”

On that note, teenage sensation Alfie Barbeary described his first Premiership start for his boyhood club as a “dream come true” after he bagged a second-half hat-trick against Leicester, while the likes of Jacob Umaga, Tom Willis and Jack Willis have also excelled this season, as the relocated Wasps academy starts to find its feet.

“Moving here was a fantastic decision for the club, but what it did do is uproot the academy from its base in London, and that has taken a number of years to reconnect with the community around here,” Launchbury added.

Out of nowhere, Wasps look contenders again.

‘It’s this – or nothing’

With 14 tries in all, Wasps against Bristol was high on points but low on jeopardy, with the game over as a contest within 18 minutes as the home side led 26-0 with a bonus point against a green Bears outfit.

Unusual score-lines and mismatches have been aplenty since the league’s restart, with the fixture schedule forcing teams to rest and rotate. Premiership Rugby’s oft-stated mantra that “anyone can beat anyone” has never been less fitting.

For Bristol boss Pat Lam, who is in the midst of four matches in 15 days with a Challenge Cup quarter-final on Friday, it is a necessary evil.

“We have to take it into the context of Covid,” he told BBC Radio 5 live. “We can either not play, or we could do this.”

However, the feeling still lingers that either scrapping or shortening this campaign would have been a better solution than finishing it at all costs, and bleeding the schedule into next season as well.

Leinster’s dominance – good or bad for the league?

Leinster celebrate winning the Pro14
Leinster will turn their focus to the Champions Cup after lifting the Pro14 trophy on Saturday

Leinster’s Pro14 triumph, their third title in a row, was as predictable as it was impressive, with the Dubliners withstanding a strong Ulster start to prevail at a canter at the Aviva.

The Rugby Union Weekly podcast was granted special access to Leinster earlier this year to gain an insight into what makes the province so successful.

With a conveyor belt of talent coming out of the Dublin schools, and a 50-plus playing roster which can cope comfortably with international requirements – either in terms of Ireland matches or the resting of top stars – not to mention some brilliant coaching and a sprinkling of foreign stardust, it is no surprise to see Leinster top of the tree once again.

But is their dominance good or bad for the Pro14? On the one hand, Leinster are driving standards for others to follow. But they are also well funded by the IRFU, and benefit from the union-run model in Ireland which places a good deal of financial emphasis on the professional provinces.

Would a Pro14 salary cap help to level the playing field? Or would that lead to either the poorer sides spending above their means or the richer ones regressing in Europe? Either way, with a typically strong crop of youngsters coming through, Leinster’s dominance of the league shows no sign of letting up.

Farrell’s five-match ban – harsh or fair?

Leinster remain on course for an unbeaten season, with their Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Saracens on Saturday the biggest game yet since rugby restarted in August.

But Sarries will be without talisman Owen Farrell for their “Last Dance” in Dublin, after he copped a five-match ban for a high tackle. The England captain is a divisive figure – the clue could be in the title – and his offence and subsequent hearing incited a huge level of public scrutiny and opinion.

In the end, a five-match ban feels about right. The disciplinary panel are bound by the different sanction entry points, and by judging the tackle as an “upper end” offence it sends a strong message out about high challenges.

Whether Farrell should have been given the usual – and maximum – 50% mitigation is another matter, with the panel deciding that his good character and references outweighed the one blot on his record, a retrospective ban in 2016.

A six-game punishment would probably have been the most palatable outcome. But any suggestions Farrell received preferential treatment because of his status in the game are wide of the mark.



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