From Rugby World reader, Mark Shanahan
I walked out of Twickenham on Saturday evening with 16 minutes left on the clock. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before at a rugby match. In fact, in 40 years of watching sport I can remember walking away early from a fixture only once before. That was a football match: Oxford United were playing Birmingham City. It was 6-0 to the Blues when I took my leave. Apparently I didn’t miss much as the final result was 7-1.
The feeling on Saturday evening was much the same: Wasps were 35-12 down at the time and the ‘defence’ (I use the word metaphorically in this instance) had parted like the Red Sea once again allowing a well organised, hungry and effective Bath side to notch up a bonus point try. In all likelihood, that moment marked the end of Wasps’ drive for the Premiership. Bath, on a sublime run of form, look to be the coming side. And while Tigers, Saints and Sarries will all provide a formidable obstacle, it wouldn’t surprise me if the West Countrymen carry off the silverware before the end of May.
They simply didn’t read the script on Saturday: this wasn’t how Wasps’ much–vaunted marketing effort was supposed to play out. There were over 60,000 at HQ for the St. George’s Day match – a tremendous turn-out raising a large sum for Help for Heroes and seemingly justifying Wasps’ decision to give up home advantage at the tight confines of Adams Park where they may have expected 8000-9000 to witness this crucial clash in the dash for the play-offs. Where the decision didn’t pay off was in enabling Bath to match Wasps in terms of support, and also in welcoming the thousands of day-trippers more concerned with the endless flow of beer and Mexican waves than anything happening on the park. That, to me, was a shame, detracting from an intense struggle on the turf where Bath slowly choked the life out of the Black and Gold and showed the kind of great defence and predatory instinct that had won their opponents so many honours over the past decade.
Galvanised by a resurgent Olly Barkley, Bath were a force throughout. Mismanaged by a misfiring Danny Cipriani, at times Wasps looked lucky to be coming second in this particular contest. The Bath axis from 8-12 functioned flawlessly, while Cipriani just seemed to be trying too hard and gave strong indications of why he hasn’t made the breakthrough so many sections of the media have expected.
From my early days of watching Barry John to the more recent escapades of Dan Carter, I’ve seen very few genius players in the number 10 shirt. Yet the media hype that surrounds Cipriani points to that young man being possessed with the same gifts as the greats. Certainly he has gifts. On his day he can make breaks others can’t even see. But for those of us who’ve watched him regularly, those days have been too few. When Danny has a mare, it’s shire horse sized and demonstrates that he doesn’t yet play for the team in a mature way. Perhaps that’s why he’s so far down Martin Johnson’s pecking order. Cipriani simply hasn’t yet learned how and when to balance risk with reward – as two examples on Saturday clearly exemplified. First, trailing 12-18, he gave up a straightforward chip for three points to kick to the corner for the chance of a try. Yet, since that corner was defended by 6’ 7” Matt Banahan, the chance was slim, and like most things Wasps tried, it didn’t come off. Wasps’ already fragile confidence was further deflated.
Then, for the umpteenth time in the match, Cipriani floated out an audacious miss pass – this time 30 metres in front of his own posts. He’d tried it before: this time Bath were cute to the tactic. Result? An interception try, game over.
There’s a time when confidence becomes arrogance and such arrogance damages the impact of the team as a whole. I hope Cipriani learns to rein in that arrogance over the next two years in Australia. If he does, he could yet become a very special player.