Gloucester v Wasps – Key Matchups

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Gloucester and Wasps are two of the most exciting teams in the Aviva Premiership with ball in hand, with skilful back row players on both sides and the 2 fastest backs in the country in Jonny May and Christian Wade on show this promises to be a thrilling encounter.  I suspect that Gloucester’s edge in the tight 5 and the home advantage provided by the vociferous occupants of “the shed” should see them to a victory, but I thought I’d outline some of the mouth watering one on one matchup’s that could occur at Kingsholm on Saturday.

Wasps and Elliot Daly may only be 19 but he has 10 England Under 20 caps and he’s started the season very well, he is one of the reasons that Wasps wingers Tom Varndell and Christian Wade, of whom more later, have scored 7 tries in 3 games, Daly’s foot work and acceleration have made defenders step inside and leave Wasps wingers with more or less a free run to the line.  Opposite Daly this weekend will be one of last season’s most exciting discoveries in 23 year old Henry Trinder.  England Saxon Trinder has bags of pace and with the potential pairing of Freddie Burns and Billy Twlevetrees inside him Trinder could find himself with more than enough space to pose Daly and Wasps outside defenders some difficult questions.  Defensively Daly has not been as outstanding as he has with the ball in hand, although defence is a team exercise more than an individual one and having conceded an average of 24 points per game this season Gloucester have also failed to excel in this area too.

The wide men for both teams have the potential to win a game for their respective teams on any given day; sadly injury to Charlie Sharples robs us of the chance to see him up against Christian Wade in what would have been almost an England trial.  On the opposite wing though there will still be a mouth watering clash between 2 of the more experienced wingers around, but with the 30 year old James Simpson- Daniel up against 27 year old Tom Varndell there will be no lack of pace.  When he’s fit Simbad as he’s known is one of the best finishers in the Premiership and if he gets a chance to turn a defender inside- out he never fails to take it.  Varndell will need to use all of his powers of concentration, something which he has traditionally not always done to make sure his feet are pointing toward the touchline, if Simpson- Daniel squares him up then there’s a very good chance Varndell will finish up behind the posts waiting for a conversion.  On the other hand Varndell has shown at the start of this season that he can take of any gap in a backline and for 40 minutes at Twickenham, on the opening weekend of the season, he, along with fellow speedster Christian Wade, tore the defending Champions Harlequins defence to shreds, so the communication between Trinder and Simpson- Daniel will be essential to the result on Saturday.

In the back row’s on Saturday will be 2 of England’s most destructive ball carriers and in the wider context of this season 2 possible contenders for a Lions Test shirt in Wasps’ number 8, the behemoth that is England Under 20 squad member, 19 year old, Sydney born Billy Vunipola.  Vunipola stands an impressive 6 feet 4 inches tall and tips the scales at an astonishing 20 stone 6 lbs.  Not only is he a giant of a man he’s also quick enough to pop up in the backline and carry the ball effectively in the open field.  Gloucester’s number 8 is current England squad member Ben Morgan, he in comparison is just 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs a miniscule 18 stone 3 lbs, one criticism of Morgan has been that while he’s probably England’s best ball carrier he doesn’t always work as hard as he might around the park and at breakdown time, if he doesn’t then Vunipola will have a field day, Vunipola usually only lasts 60 minutes, but with his replacement being the near 17 stone South African Ashley Johnson there is no let up from Wasps destructive carriers.  Also appearing the back rows will 2 of England’s brightest young talents at blind side, with Gloucester’s 23 year old Tom Savage likely starting against Wasps 21 year old Joe Launchbury, both are tall, 6 feet 5 and 6 feet 6 respectively but Savage is nearly a stone and half heavier than Launchbury at 18 stone 1 lb compared to 16 stone 7 lb, so Launchbury may be the more mobile of the 2, which could be decisive when it comes to recycling ball.

There will be a very absorbing battle at the scrum half position as Wasps 24 year old Joe Simpson, another English qualified Sydney native has recovered from the niggly injuries he seemed to suffer most of last season and looks to be back to his best, making sniping runs and providing the quick ball that Wasps have needed to score 11 tries in 3 games.  Opposing him will be England Under 20’s scrum half Dan Robson, Robson has been holding off competition for his place from 23 year old Dave Lewis but he won’t have had a tougher challenge than Simpson so far this season.

Finally the versatile Billy Twlevetrees deserves a mention, he is one of the best ball distributors currently in the Aviva Premiership, he’s an excellent kicker out of hand, can place kick from an alarming distance and at 6 feet 3 inches tall he’s a considerable presence in the midfield for Gloucester, he’s already started in both the 12 and 10 shirt for the Cherry and Whites this season, so picking which Wasps player he will line up against on Saturday is a fairly tricky business, but one thing is for sure he’ll be a threat in attack and if Wasps concede too many penalties, which has been known to happen already this season then he can punish them from long range.