The final day of the 2020/2021 English Premiership regular season did not disappoint, despite two games being called off for COVID-19 reasons. None of the remaining four games were dead rubbers, with plenty of teams still fighting for positions. However, the fixture which caught the eye was Wasps against Leicester Tigers at the Ricoh Arena, which was also a local derby. Both teams had good and bad aspects to their play, but it was Leicester Tigers who came through as eventual winners. This tactical analysis will look at the tactics both sides utilised, finding the reasons why Wasps lost the game and Leicester won it.
Wasps Leicester Tigers
15. R. Miller 15. Z. Henry
14. M. Watson 14. F. Steward
13. M. Fekitoa 13. M. Scott
12. M. Le Bourgeois 12. D. Kelly
11. J. Bassett 11. N. Nadolo
10. J. Umaga 10. J. McPhillips
9. D. Robson 9. J. van Poortvliet
- S. McIntyre 1. E. Genge (c)
- T. Taylor 2. J. Montoya
- K. Brookes 3. D. Cole
- W. Rowlands 4. H. Wells
- J. Gaskell 5. C. Henderson
- T. Willis 6. G. Martin
- B. Shields (c) 7. H. Liebenberg
- S. Vailanu 8. J. Wiese
Wasps’ tactical play
Wasps have had a season to forget, struggling nearer the bottom of the Premiership after finishing as runners-up last season. However, they have fought their way into the top eight, and were looking to cement their place in next season’s Champions Cup with a last-day victory.
They started with a good focus, applying plenty of early pressure on Leicester Tigers and keeping them on the back foot. This was because of their tactical approach to various areas of the game.
One of those tactics came at lineouts. Normally, the ball is thrown in and the two sides engage in a maul, but Wasps looked to avoid these. This image shows how hooker Tommy Taylor, who will join Sale Sharks this summer, has gone around the outside after delivering the ball, shown by the yellow arrow. This gets him into a position to receive the ball first, allowing him to run at the Leicester defence.
Moves like these kept the game at a high tempo, with Wasps taking advantage of any gaps they found whilst the away side’s forwards were in the maul. Taylor’s run began a period of sustained pressure that led to number 8 Sione Vailanu scoring for Wasps’ first try of the game. Therefore, we can see how the home side’s tactical approach helped them to break Leicester down.
Fly-half Jacob Umaga has been one of Wasps’ star players over the last couple of seasons, but the last few games have seen his influence in their attacking play increase, helping to drive them forwards more. In this image, we see the build-up to his try, which began with him passing to centre Malakai Fekitoa, who then offloaded to winger Marcus Watson, as the blue arrow shows. However, the key thing here is that Umaga, in the yellow circle, has run through to get on the end of Watson’s grubber kick infield, thereby completing the circle.
The gap that he ran through was created by Leicester flanker George Martin drifting towards the ball slightly, as the red arrow illustrates, and he is unaware of Umaga running through behind him. However, it is this awareness, creativity and raw pace that has made Umaga one of the best English fly-halves around, and, once he gathers the ball here, his first thought is to run forwards and score the try, so this again shows the threat he poses and how Leicester struggled to deal with him at times.
In the second half, Wasps looked to maintain their energy levels, continuing to look for spaces to attack. Substitute centre Jimmy Gopperth has made a diagonal run forward here, having seen the gap on the far side of the pitch. Leicester were down to 14 players at this point, with Zack Henry in the sin bin, and Freddie Steward, who had been a winger in this game, was temporarily playing in his more natural full-back position. This left the space open down the side, and Wasps were always alert to these moments during the game.
What was also important was the way Wasps offloaded the ball at the last minute, waiting for the Leicester defenders to commit to the tackle and free the space for the next Wasps player to run into. Gopperth’s pass to full-back Rob Miller here is an example of that, with Miller able to run forward before doing the same. Ultimately, Wasps’ tactics in attack were effective, and were the reason they stayed in this game instead of allowing Leicester to run away with it.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, as Wasps did make plenty of errors with the ball, and these have been a major factor in their disappointing overall season. This image shows how scrum-half Dan Robson has played a quick tap-and-go penalty, but the pass out to the wing is not clean enough, being knocked on as a result. These are the small moments that have let Wasps down this season, with their lack of precision and accuracy preventing them building momentum at times, as well as allowing Leicester to get back when the home side had broken through them.
Overall, Wasps didn’t play badly, but it was little moments like this that stopped them winning the game. This has been the story of their season, so they need to use the summer break to improve their quality and accuracy, tidying up their play and being harder to beat next season.
Leicester Tigers’ first half
Leicester Tigers also began the game well, asking Wasps plenty of questions. Their main strength is their attack, as, when one player makes a run, they all get forward in support, and this is why their opponents look to keep them on the back foot in each game.
We have already mentioned one error he made in this game, but flanker George Martin has played a major part in Leicester’s revival this season, getting involved in all areas of their play. Here, he picks the ball up from the breakdown and runs forward, catching Wasps out and gaining a couple of extra metres for his team. Wasps were expecting scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, positioned behind Martin, to take the ball and pass it down the line, but Leicester wanted to play quickly and exploit Wasps’ defence, as this is the home side’s biggest weakness. Therefore, quick play like this was one way that Leicester looked to control the game.
Their quick attacks didn’t only come when making forward breaks, but also when they were looking to create gaps in the Wasps line, and this was another really effective aspect of Leicester’s play. At scrums, van Poortvliet didn’t take the ball out of the back, but ran around to be the first receiver instead. Number 8 Jasper Wiese, recently named in the South Africa squad to face the British and Irish Lions, picked the ball up when it reached him, with Leicester now having an extra passing option to help them move the ball with more speed.
This image shows Leicester’s second try, scored by Scotland centre Matt Scott, but it was a team effort to create the space. Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo has run into the main group of defenders, as the blue square shows, acting as a decoy. This creates a 2-v-2 situation outside him, with fly-half Johnny McPhillips drawing Umaga towards him, as the yellow arrow shows, whilst Wasps winger Josh Bassett is too far over to close the gap adequately enough. Therefore, the gap is created, with McPhillips setting Scott up to score.
This looks like a simple try, but it owed a lot to Leicester’s players working together to create the opportunity, as well as their accuracy with the ball. These are two things we have associated a lot with Leicester this season, and they highlight the improvements made under head coach Steve Borthwick this season.
Leicester Tigers’ second half
In the second half, Leicester Tigers tried to keep the pressure on, keeping Wasps on the back foot as much as possible.
In this image, van Poortvliet, who was always a threat, has angled his body to pass down the line. One of the reasons he has become a first-team regular this season is because he offers a lot to Leicester’s attacking game, able to make quick decisions and darting runs through opponents’ defences. Here, he runs between Wasps prop Kieran Brookes and centre Michael Le Bourgeois, who are both unable to stop him, before setting up Argentina hooker Julian Montoya to score. This demonstrates the individual quality that has seen van Poortvliet be one of the finds of the season.
As the game went on, Leicester needed to find extra energy to help them over the line, especially as Wasps had increasing amounts of possession and looked more dangerous going forward. Another of their Argentina internationals, centre Matias Moroni, came on in the closing stages to help them see out the game, and he is closing Gopperth down here, winning the scrum for his team. Moroni, who was signed as a direct replacement for Manu Tuilagi last summer, had also made the initial tackle on Fekitoa beforehand, so this demonstrates the impact he had in the final stages of the game.
Wasps’ aforementioned penalty concessions in the closing stages were another reason Leicester kept control of the game, and the try scored by another Argentina international, substitute lock Tomas Lavanini, was a just reward for their sustained pressure. It was fitting that Lavanini scored it, as he was another playing his final game for the club; he will join Top 14 side Clermont-Auvergne for next season.
However, there are still a few areas that Leicester need to work on ahead of next season, particularly in defence. This image shows the try scored by Wales lock Will Rowlands, who is moving to Welsh side Dragons in the United Rugby Championship (formerly known as the Pro 14) this summer, with Leicester making it too easy for him to get through.
Wasps moved the ball quickly, using long passes to get into this area before Leicester could block the space off. McPhillips, in the red circle, moved slightly towards the sideline, whilst flanker Hanro Liebenberg, in the yellow circle, couldn’t get across to close the gap; this gave Rowlands space to break through and score.
It was a simple try, but it came because Leicester gave Wasps the opportunity, and it’s moments like this that will hold them back when competing for places in the top four.
In conclusion, we have seen in this analysis how Wasps and Leicester Tigers, who were both looking to seal a place in next season’s Champions Cup, played out an entertaining and balanced game. Both sides had good and bad parts to their performance, and have plenty of things to work on over the summer, but both will also feel that sealing a place in the top European competition is an achievement and something to celebrate. Next season, both will hope to challenge higher up the table, but will need to be more consistent with their results in order to do that. With players leaving both teams, recruitment will be key in helping them to gain more positive results next season.