With the Premiership’s top four positions now finalised, attention has switched to the battle for European Champions Cup places next season. Both London Irish and Wasps are in the mix, with the former hosting the latter on Saturday at the Brentford Community Stadium, with each trying to keep their fate in their own hands. This tactical analysis will pick out the reasons for London Irish’s first half dominance, as well as Wasps’ comeback tactics that led to their eventual win after 80 minutes.
London Irish Wasps
15. T. Parton 15. C. Atkinson
14. J. Stokes 14. M. Watson
13. C. Rona 13. J. de Jongh
12. T. Hepetema 12. M. Le Bourgeois
11. O. Hassell-Collins 11. J. Bassett
10. P. Jackson 10. J. Umaga
9. N. Groom 9. D. Robson
- W. Goodrick-Clarke 1. T. West
- A. Creevy 2. G. Oghre
- O. Hoskins 3. K. Brookes
- A. Coleman 4. W. Rowlands
- R. Simmons 5. J. Gaskell
- M. Rogerson 6. B. Shields (c)
- B. Cowan (c) 7. T. Young
- A. Tuisue 8. T. Willis
London Irish’s attack
London Irish began well, using their powerful attacking presence to put pressure on Wasps’ defence. This has been the away side’s biggest weakness in past seasons, and the Exiles saw it as a chance for them to score plenty of points early on in the game.
This image shows how London Irish constantly ran forwards with the ball, gaining plenty of territory, and you can see how much space centre Terrence Hepetema, in the green circle, has ahead of him. Hepetema’s run set the foundations for London Irish to score a few phases later through winger Ollie Hassell-Collins, so we can see how these forward carries were the basis of all their good attacking play.
They were helped in this by poor Wasps defending, with the away side standing too far back here, not coming forward to engage the ball. This created the space for Hepetema, and allowed London Irish to make constant dents in the Wasps line. The home side had already scored a try early on through their other centre, Curtis Rona, but Wasps didn’t learn their lesson, continuously allowing their hosts to run through them and push them backwards.
Carries are a critical part of a rugby match, but they need to be made with speed and power to have maximum effect. This is something London Irish have an abundance of, with their back-row forwards all capable of driving forwards when in possession.
The most notable player in this is number 8 Albert Tuisue, with the Fiji international taking the ball here from Exiles captain and flanker Blair Cowan, before charging at the Wasps defence; his run takes him through the line, thereby gaining ground for his team. Tuisue’s break also led to a series of carries and offloads which set up their fourth try of the game, scored by him, so we can see how his presence gave London Irish power going forward.
This was only one example of their first half attacking play, but it was a constant before half-time, with Wasps seemingly out of ideas as to how to keep them back.
After half-time, Wasps played much better, with London Irish having to adapt as a result. Instead of running forwards, they kicked the ball high and long, testing Wasps’ back line, hoping they would lose it in the sun and knock it forward. Here, fly-half Paddy Jackson is doing just that, playing the ball up the pitch towards Wasps full-back Charlie Atkinson. Atkinson did catch the ball most of the time, but it was clear that the sun was causing a few problems when the ball was in the air, so it was clever of London Irish to use this as a way of forcing a mistake by the Wasps back line.
London Irish may have finished on the wrong side of this crucial game, but they should still be proud of their performance. It wasn’t long ago that they sealed promotion to the Premiership, but were relegated after just one season. They are now an established top flight side, looking for a place in European rugby’s top competition, and that shows how far they have come in only a few seasons.
London Irish played well, but were helped by some poor Wasps play. The away side have really struggled this season, partly because of injury problems, but also partly because they have made too many mistakes and given their opponents chances to score against them. This was the case in this game too.
Wasps’ defence had plenty of problems during the first half, with line discipline a major issue. Here, scrum-half Dan Robson has come out to meet Hepetema, in the green circle, but his teammates have stayed back, creating the gap for London Irish to attack into, and Hepetema sends Rona through to score his second of the game.
This was only one example of the open space in Wasps’ defence, but another came on the half-time mark, when Tuisue scored his second try from poor Wasps positioning. That time, the ball was in a scrum, with Wasps centre Juan de Jongh not close enough to the scrum. That meant that, when Tuisue picked the ball up from the back of the scrum, he had a sizeable gap to run through and score in.
Moments like these made it very easy for London Irish to dominate Wasps, and these are the issues the away side need to address quickly, because this lack of defensive organisation has led to them becoming an easier team to beat.
Whilst their second half play was much better, they still made simple mistakes, leading to opportunities being missed. Here, lock James Gaskell is looking to play the ball to a teammate, with centre Michael Le Bourgeois behind him and fly-half Jacob Umaga running to help out. However, Gaskell’s pass finds neither of them, instead hitting the floor and forcing Umaga to backtrack in order to pick it up.
As a result of this, Wasps lost their momentum, with London Irish lock Rob Simmons ripping the ball from Umaga a few seconds later, and this demonstrates how Wasps were their own worst enemies at times.
This image shows an error they made with a penalty restart, showing how they lacked quality in every aspect of the game. Robson has picked up the ball, looking to use a tap-and-go to get his team behind the London Irish defence before the home side could organise themselves. However, he drops the ball, ending the opportunity. Whilst this was not a knock-on offence, as it didn’t touch Robson’s hand before connecting with the ground, it still took away the momentum that Robson had been trying to build, and that is the key thing here.
However, there were some positives for Wasps in the first half, as well as their general second half improvements, which we will now look at.
One player who gives his all in every game for Wasps is winger Josh Bassett. This game was his 100th Premiership start, and moments like this demonstrated why he has reached that tally. The yellow arrow here shows his inside run to win the ball, rather than waiting for it to reach him.
London Irish lock Adam Coleman, in the green circle, gives the ball away by passing to his teammate without looking, but we can see from the two players’ starting positions just how far Bassett runs to make the interception, timing it perfectly. Once he has the ball, he runs through and scores Wasps’ first try of the game, and it is anticipation and awareness like this that has made Bassett one of Wasps’ key players in attacking situations.
In the second half, they had more moments like this, finding spaces and getting on the front foot, rather than allowing London Irish to control the play. Winger Marcus Watson, older brother of Bath and England back Anthony, had a quiet first half, but was involved much more in the second 40 minutes. Here, he catches a kick and runs forwards, keeping the ball rather than passing or kicking it.
The yellow arrow shows how much ground he made from this run, finding a gap between Cowan and Rona, and this again helps to get Wasps on the front foot. Wasps looked more comfortable with Watson involved, and he gave them the spark they needed to play more freely in the second half.
To demonstrate his importance even more, this break led to Tom Willis’ first try of the game (the number 8 had a hat-trick by the end), so this was not only a good forward run that gained territory for Wasps, but also got them behind London Irish and enabled them to score the points they needed at this stage of the match.
Watson’s partnership with Umaga was another notable feature in their second half play, with this image showing another of their tries being scored. This time, Wasps have passed the ball around, trying to create a gap, and Umaga runs into the space ahead of him after receiving a short offload from substitute prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen. Hassell-Collins, in the green circle, is immediately drawn towards the fly-half, leaving Watson free on the wing. Umaga’s pass to the winger is well-timed, allowing the try to be scored.
This was in stark contrast to their first half play, where they lacked precision and didn’t manage to create opportunities as a result. By tidying things up, they looked a much more dangerous side and turned the game around, preventing London Irish from playing the attacking rugby the Exiles had been using in the first half.
It wasn’t just Umaga finding spaces; many Wasps players were now moving the ball around the pitch, with London Irish finding it increasingly difficult to stop them accessing the space behind. Here, Robson is in the middle of the pitch, looking to make the long pass out to the wing, as his team would have an overload in that channel and could get behind the Exiles’ narrow defensive line as a result.
Robson’s pass is caught by replacement hooker Tom Cruse, and good interplay involving a few players allows Bassett to score his second try of the game, underneath the posts, so this again shows how their more expansive second half rugby helped them to come back and win the game.
As well as clever passing and good spatial awareness, the other reason Wasps dominated the second half was because of increased speed when in possession. This was not just in forward runs, but also in some of their tactical choices at set-pieces. To demonstrate this, the away side have taken a lineout here, but, instead of throwing the ball in between the lines, starting hooker Gabriel Oghre has thrown it over the top to Le Bourgeois, who immediately feeds it to Robson behind him.
This takes away the maul that comes after lineouts, which slows play down and gives the opposing defence time to organise themselves behind. Therefore, by avoiding this, Wasps were trying to catch London Irish out, hoping to find a gap in their line to attack through before the forward pack could get back to help out. This again demonstrates their tactical improvements after half-time, and why they were able to come back and win this crucial clash.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has shown how London Irish dominated proceedings in the first half, and how Wasps made too many errors that reflected their struggles this season. However, the away side made tactical changes in the second half, and looked much better because of them. We have seen how they played with more speed, increasingly found spaces, and involved their more threatening players, all of which caused London Irish plenty of problems and meant that they scored just three points in the second half.
However, whilst London Irish will be disappointed with the result, it wasn’t that they played badly in the second half; Wasps just played better. The final round of fixtures in the regular season takes place on Saturday, and we will see then how significant this result could be in the race for a top eight league position.