Wentzel is thoroughly enjoying life at Wasps right now, despite the weekend’s disappointing loss to London Irish.
The South African second row spent the last three seasons involved in relegation battles – last year with Wasps and two years in a row with Leeds – and he says he is loving that pressure being lifted this year.
“it is never a great deal of fun battling against relegation and I have had that for three years in row, but on the other side, there is a great sense of achievement that you get from fighting for survival and then achieving it. There is a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get with anything else. I think that this season we are enjoying the fruits of that battle last year. I am really enjoying this season; it is a completely different atmosphere and a totally different feeling coming to training every day. We haven’t had that shadow cast over the team and things behind the scenes have begun to be sorted out and it is a big boost for the squad.”
Wentzel says that the squad was extremely disappointed to lose to London Irish not just by the fact that they lost, but more importantly by the way they lost.
“We didn’t play well, we weren’t up to scratch in defence and we didn’t retain the ball well enough. That wasn’t a reflection of what this group of people are capable of. There are a lot of guys who aren’t that pleased this week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Following that loss to London Irish, Director of Rugby Dai Young made mention of the pressures on his squad over recent weeks, which has seen 25 players available to pick a squad of 23 from. Wentzel echoes those sentiments, making it clear that with players away on international duty and a number out injured, the squad has paid the price physically over the last month.
"We have lost a few guys to international duty and a couple of guys have some niggles so it has been very hard to train and it has pretty much been the same guys who have been playing 80 minutes week in week out.”
“When you lose key guys in key positions, the likes of Billy [Vunipola], Joe Launchbury, [James] Haskell and Andrea Masi, it puts pressure on the whole squad.”
“Exeter are a prime example of a team who have performed extremely well in the Premiership but then having to also perform in the Heineken Cup has added extra pressure to their squad. Our squad is not big and any added pressure will have a negative impact on it.”
“With us playing well our guys are getting that international recognition and there are a few more lads who we are going to lose during the international periods next year so it has been encouraging that Dai [Young] has been signing some players who will really add something to our squad for next season.”
“The two week break coming up after this Friday’s game against Worcester couldn’t come at a better time for us as a squad, but before that the game at Sixways is a big one. Every game in this league is big but in context, if we want to fight to be in the top six this weekend is big.”
However, the absence of some of those more established players has given others the opportunity to get some game time under their belts, and Wentzel makes special mention of fellow South African Ashley Johnson and fellow lock James Cannon, who have both impressed in recent weeks.
“It has always been interesting with the guys coming over from the Southern Hemisphere whether they do really well or disappear completely. I think that Ashley [Johnson] was the first to admit that he struggled in the first four or five games adapting to playing week in week out in the intensity of the Aviva Premiership. People don’t tend to realise how intense the Premiership is every week. He is a big lad but he loves the dry weather style of rugby and he has had to work out which bits of that game he can make use of in this environment. After that slow start he has come on leaps and bounds and is now a real key player for us.”
“James Cannon is another guy who has impressed. Much like Joe Launchbury last season, who was given an opportunity to play a good amount of rugby, JC has made the most of some of the guys being away on international duty or out with injury and has really impressed. For any young player it is all about game time, especially in a position where you have to make decisions, and it has been great for him to get that.”
This Friday night’s game gives Wasps a chance to get back on track, but the task will not be an easy one, travelling up to Sixways on a Friday night to play a Worcester team looking to pick up points to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack at the bottom of the table.
“We know that going away to Worcester is going to be a tough challenge, they will be looking to put a bit of distance between themselves and the bottom of the table. They had a loss against Gloucester and they will be looking to bounce back and pick up some much-needed points.
“There are not many sides that go up to Sixways on a Friday night and come away with a win. They are in a not too dissimilar place to where we were last year and we know how much that can drive you. We have a short turnaround, coming out of a Sunday game into a Friday game, and if we are not fully on our game then we are going to struggle.”
“They are very good at grinding you down, they are good in defence and have a good kicking game so there is no doubt that they are going to make it very hard for us. If we want to play our brand of rugby then we are going to have to do the hard yards first.”