How did it go down?
Wasps’ visit to Northampton was a welcome break from the battle of attrition between Sale and Exeter that we saw on Friday night. Wasps narrowly had the better of the early exchanges as they pushed ahead 6-3 before Ben Foden ran back a poor kick and put Ahsee Tuala away after cutting though the Wasps defence. Wasps crept ahead again after another penalty from Gopperth before a thrilling passage of back and forth play on the half-hour mark ended with Ashley Johnson noticing that nobody was at home for the Saints from within his own twenty-two, before kicking behind for Christian Wade to saunter over. Foden was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on just before half-time, but Wasps went in feeling aggrieved as a Dan Robson try was incorrectly disallowed for a foot in touch.
Wasps were able to capitalise after the interval as Willie Le Roux sent Ashley Johnson over in the corner to establish some control over what had been an open game in the first half. Winger Josh Bassett scored a good try an hour in, stepping inside the covering Tuala to keep a Northampton team who were creeping back into the game at bay. The excellent Johnson then offloaded to send Juan De Jongh over the line as Wasps’ South African contingent continued to grow in influence. With 38 points on the board Wasps were well in charge of proceedings before substitute Harry Mallinder restored some pride with an excellent individual try, with the score finishing at 22-38.
So what did we learn?
Wasps rack up a second impressive victory – Wasps followed up their win at home against Harlequins with an even more impressive away victory against a Northampton team who were previously shaping up to be one of the better sides in the league. Wasps looked back to their best, where they are able to outscore the opposition by striking from anywhere the pitch. There is some cause for concern after Elliot Daly and Matt Mullan went down with injuries, which could cause further disruption, however signs are suggesting that the slump has ended. This is worrying news for some of the stronger mid-table teams who could be squeezed out of playoff contention by a resurgent Wasps.
Northampton not able to assert their dominance up front – Northampton’s early season form was built on their ability to grind teams down with their strong set piece and a sizable pack. This wasn’t the case on Saturday as Wasps (who boast a former B&I Lions prop as their Director of Rugby) were able to achieve parity upfront. Matt Mullan, Jake Cooper-Wooley and Ashley Johnson did a superb job and were able to get the upper hand at scrumtime against a Northampton frontrow that included the England captain and two very experienced premiership props. It is a very good sign for Wasps moving forwards that they achieved parity, but will be worrying for a Northampton side whose ability to out muscle the top sides was already in question.
Harry Mallinder might not be a twelve after all – Well I’m going to devote a bit of time to talk about something that happened when the result was already concluded and that is Harry Mallinder’s consolation try in the 77th minute. Mallinder has been an intriguing prospect since he burst onto the scene with a winning try against Glasgow in January 2016 at just nineteen years old, before following this up by starring in England U20s world cup campaign that summer as a fly-half. At 6’5 and seventeen stone he is an unconventional ten and because of this I’ve assumed that his future lies at inside centre. Mallinder reportedly has other thoughts and sees the fullback position as his long-term future. Previously I wouldn’t have said he has the athleticism to be an attacking threat in the back three, but that was shown to be wrong on Saturday as Mallinder took on the electric Christian Wade on the outside to run in a try from just inside the opposition half. Watching the giant youngster in full flight was quite something and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shocked by his turn of pace.
So how did that prediction go?
Not well. It looks like I overestimated Northampton, while underestimating Wasps who very much looked the better side as the game wore on at Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton will need to go back to the drawing board again while Wasps losing streak now feels a distant memory.