The English Premiership has passed its halfway stage for the regular season, and the games are now starting to carry even more significance. This game saw a side fighting for a play-off place travel to a team with plenty of desire, but still struggling near the bottom of the table. Wasps were runners-up last season, but know that every team is difficult to beat, and Worcester Warriors, despite always fighting for survival, are just that. This tactical analysis will look at how Wasps set up in defence and attack to neutralise Worcester’s players at Sixways Stadium, and how Worcester showed quality on the field, but ultimately fell short of winning, instead having to settle for a losing bonus point.
Worcester Warriors Wasps
15. C. Pennell 15. M. Minozzi
14. P. Humphreys 14. Z. Kibirige
13. F. Venter 13. M. Fekitoa
12. A. Beck 12. J. Gopperth
11. N. David 11. J. Bassett
10. J. Shillcock 10. C. Atkinson
9. G. Simpson 9. S. Wolstenholme
- E. Waller 1. T. West
- I. Miller 2. T. Taylor
- N. Schonert 3. K. Brookes
- G. Kitchener 4. L. Douglas
- J. Clegg 5. J. Gaskell
- T. Hill (c) 6. B. Shields (c)
- M. Kvesic 7. B. Morris
- C. du Preez 8. T. Willis
The first thing we will look at is how Wasps set up in defence. The image below shows how they had a solid setup, meaning Worcester Warriors struggled to break through them.
One of Worcester’s main characteristics is their runs from the back, with the likes of centres Ollie Lawrence and Ashley Beck, as well as wingers Perry Humphreys and Nick David, all capable of finding spaces and setting up opportunities for their teammates. However, because Wasps have an organised line here, with little to no space in between each other, it means Worcester can’t break through them.
The Warriors therefore had to resort to kicking the ball overhead, looking to find some space. However, when this happened here, Wasps fly-half Charlie Atkinson was in the perfect position to gather the ball and get his team on the front foot. Therefore, Wasps’ strong defending has forced Worcester to rethink their tactics, meaning they couldn’t play the way they ordinarily like to.
In the closing stages of the game, they were still defending well, holding strong and stopping Worcester advancing forwards with their pace. Here, the Warriors are passing down the line, looking to find some space, but when captain and flanker Ted Hill, in the blue circle, receives the ball from Beck, he is met by Wasps winger Josh Bassett, in the yellow circle, who closes him down before he can make any movement forward. The fact that Bassett came off his wing to make this tackle also shows how well they anticipated where the ball would go, closing Hill down and ensuring there was no gap for him to run through.
Wasps’ defence has not been their strongest element in recent seasons, but this game demonstrated the improvement we have seen from them in this area since Lee Blackett took over as head coach, and it was a key reason why they got to the play-off final last year.
In attack, Wasps were equally as impressive. The image below shows how they got up to close Worcester Warriors down in their own third, stopping them from clearing.
It is Humphreys here who is about to kick the ball, but he is met by Wasps winger Zach Kibirige who charges the clearance down. This almost led to a try for the away side, and these moments are why Worcester are only one point off the bottom of the table. Humphreys was under pressure, but needed to look up before attempting the kick. This was a warning for Worcester that Wasps were in the mood, particularly after losing their last two games, and they needed to be more careful with the ball so as not to gift them easy opportunities.
Another example of Wasps giving warning signs to Worcester’s defence was here, when they played the ball out to the wing and looked to find space there to run through. Worcester were pressing their opponents here, but have drifted inside, and that has left full-back Chris Pennell, in the blue circle, to deal with a 2-v-1 situation. Some quick passing from Wasps allows them to get the ball out to the wing, and Kibirige, nearest the wing, runs outside him with pace. This was a great move, which ultimately led to nothing, but it was still a warning sign for Worcester that they couldn’t leave these spaces open for Wasps to exploit at will.
However, it was one that Worcester didn’t learn from, and we see here how, 15 minutes later, Wasps have again found space on the wing, with Worcester caught in another situation where one player is facing multiple Wasps attackers. Wasps centre Malakai Fekitoa has done really well to create the space with his darting movement here, playing a pass out to number 8 Tom Willis, in the yellow circle, who then runs around Warriors winger Nick David without being tackled. Willis had passing options in Kibirige and hooker Tommy Taylor outside him, but didn’t need them, running through to score the try alone. David was caught defending alone against all three, and this again shows how Worcester have quality, but some poor decisions defensively cost them at times.
As well as attacking with numbers, another thing Wasps were doing was getting in between the Worcester defenders, looking to create opportunities to attack behind them. Italy full-back Matteo Minozzi, Kibirige, utility back Jimmy Gopperth and Atkinson were all doing this at times in the game, and it is Atkinson in this image who has found the space. Worcester have lost line discipline for a split second, which is enough for the young Wasps fly-half to run through them. Wasps have plenty of power in attack, and it is these little gains that just help them to make advances on the field. This is particularly important when facing sides who are difficult to break down.
This also continued in the second half, as we can see in this image. This time, flanker Ben Morris, in the red circle, has found the gap, before passing to scrum-half Sam Wolstenholme, in the yellow circle. As you can see here, Wolstenholme instantly looks up and sees that Kibirige, in the yellow square, is in space on the far side wing, with Worcester again coming too narrow and leaving that space open. Although this doesn’t come to anything, it is these small phases of play that make the difference in tight games, like this one. It also again demonstrates the threat Wasps have in attack, and that leaving any space open against them is dangerous.
Worcester Warriors’ attack
Wasps played well, but Worcester Warriors deserved their losing bonus point, because they also had good passages of play in this game, particularly when attacking.
The Warriors were always looking to drive forward whenever they got the ball, putting themselves in between the Wasps defenders. We mentioned how Wasps defended well, and were organised, but there were moments where they just gave Worcester a small chink of space, and that is what we see in this image. South African centre Francois Venter has made the move here, but is tackled once he breaks through. This may not seem like much, but, like with Wasps, it’s the small gains that make the difference.
We have mentioned how Wasps’ defence is much improved since Lee Blackett took over, but the other teams in the Premiership know how much space there was previously. Therefore, as Worcester are doing here, they test it, looking to see where the weak points are, and where they can possibly run through it. This image comes from the early stages of the game, so it shows how Worcester’s tactics at this point were to run at Wasps and find the areas where the visitors were more open.
The introduction of scrum-half Michael Heaney in the second half made a big difference, because he was more lively and added more pace and direction to Worcester’s attacking game. Here, Wasps have made their first mistake in defence, leaving too much space open on the far side wing for Nick David to run outside them, and Heaney also makes the run, creating this situation, where two Worcester players have got behind the Wasps defensive line. As the blue arrow shows, both combine to beat Minozzi at the back, who is out of shot, and David goes over for the try in relatively easy circumstances. This type of play was much-needed for the Warriors, but it shows two key points; firstly, Wasps still leave gaps from time to time that allow their opponents to break through them, and, secondly, Heaney had a big influence on Worcester’s attack when he came on.
However, one player who looked really impressive for Worcester Warriors was fly-half Jamie Shillcock. With Duncan Weir away with Scotland for the Six Nations, the 23-year-old has been given more opportunities to shine, and this game allowed him to demonstrate his talent.
Here, Shillcock has seen where the space is, and has played a chipped kick over the defenders into that area. It was notable that he always looked to kick when he could, aiming to get his team on the front foot, and trying to get his teammates into a position where they could score. Here, the kick is a little too powerful, and ends up in the hands of Minozzi, but the intent was there, and, by making a kick like this, he puts the doubt in the minds of the Wasps players. They now know that they have to watch him and make sure that his kicks don’t lead to Worcester getting behind them and running towards the try line.
The other thing he does is to kick across the pitch, which takes confidence and accuracy with the ball. Here, we see his awareness of where everyone is on the pitch, and where the space is, indicated by the red square. This means he can get the ball to where it will be most effective. The distance on the kick shows his confidence to take the chance, rather than passing along the line, which would allow Wasps to get back and cover the spaces. Instead, Perry Humphreys almost scores here, with Minozzi making a questionable tackle just as he is about to score, but this was close to working and getting Worcester some much-needed points on the board. The fly-half position is the creative centre of the team, and Shillcock was definitely performing that role with his kicking around the pitch.
Here, Shillcock has again assessed the situation and whereabouts of everyone on the pitch, and is again looking to find the space behind the Wasps defence. However, what is particularly notable here is that he is kicking towards the try line, looking to make the ball bounce as close as possible to it. Not only does this switch the direction of play, which means Wasps have to adjust to it, but it also means that the Wasps players risk making a mistake when going back to gather the ball, because the ball was spinning in ways that meant it picked up speed when it connected with the ground at times. This was really clever play from the Warriors fly-half, and did cause a few issues for Wasps in the game.
In conclusion, this was a very tightly-contested game, with both Worcester Warriors and Wasps having plenty to be happy about, and plenty to look at and improve on as the games go on. We have looked in this analysis at how Wasps had some good features in their attack and defence, as well as how Worcester attacked well, particularly in the second half when Michael Heaney had replaced Gareth Simpson. However, both sides will be relatively unhappy with the number of points they got from the game, with Wasps perhaps feeling they had chances to get a bonus point, whilst Worcester will know that some poor defending at times let Wasps break through them and score too easily, and, despite showing some good signs, they still have work to do to improve.