Gopperth: It will be a battle
Jimmy Gopperth says the squad are looking at Saturday’s trip to Franklin’s Gardens as a tough challenge but also the chance to kickstart their Aviva Premiership campaign, in a rivalry that has become a seasonal highlight.
Since Wasps’ move to Coventry, the rivalry between the two sides has been ignited. Now less than 50 miles from each other, games between Wasps and Northampton Saints have become one of the most hotly-contested fixtures in the calendar.
Wasps came out on the right side of two narrow results last season, with the men in black and gold winning 32-30 and 20-15 during the 2016/17 Aviva Premiership campaign.
However with Saints already having already beaten Leicester, Bath and Quins at home in the Premiership this season, Wasps know the size of the challenge that lies ahead of them at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saints come into the game on the back of two European defeats and both sides are in search of the victory to get their campaign’s back on track. The importance of Saturday’s clash is not lost on Jimmy Gopperth.
“Winning one game from six doesn’t exactly make us world beaters, and we know that. This weekend, Northampton will be hurting on the back of their loss to Saracens. The last time they lost by that kind of margin was against Saracens on the opening day of the Premiership and then they went home to Franklin’s Gardens and dished Leicester a bit of a whipping, so we know they’ll be coming hard at us. We just have to continue the buzz around the group, that confidence, and getting back to how we like to play.
“It’s a local derby now and there have been some great games between us in the recent past and it’s one we always look forward to. Just look at last year’s games, they were very tight and we know we’ll be up against a real battle to come out on top. For us we want to get back on track in the Premiership and winning this weekend is what we need to do to make that happen.”
Wasps’ win over Harlequins last weekend stopped a run of five losses and helped restore an air of confidence to the squad, but Gopperth said the team now have to kick on.
“It was obviously a bit of a disappointing start for us, which hasn’t been helped by certain uncontrollables, but that’s rugby these days. Unfortunately, we’ve been hit maybe a bit harder than some others but in the last three weeks, even in the two we lost out of those three, we’ve been making some good strides and we’re in a good place where we can really start to kick on. On Sunday it just showed what we are capable of and, as I said, I feel like we’ve made some good strides and hopefully it’s a starting point for us.
“Our determination in defence has probably been our biggest improvement in those last three games. Against Saracens, Ulster and against Harlequins, the way we have defended has driven our attack really, because we’ve created so many chances off the back of our defence, and that’s given us a lot of confidence. It’s been a big work on; we’ve worked really hard at it and it’s paying some dividends. That has to be our standard now and we’ve got to push forward.
“The senior players are key, especially in moments when the confidence is down a bit. They drive the standards and drive the team, it’s hugely important. We are very lucky that we have a number of guys here who can do that and a number of different individuals have stepped up at different points.
“It was good fun at the weekend. When you score a couple of early tries you see everyone relax a little bit and start to enjoy themselves, and that’s when we play good rugby. When you have a smile on your face, you’re intense and you’re right up for the competition. We’ve been missing a bit of that spark in recent weeks and that spark ignited at the weekend and let’s hope it’s here to stay.
“For our attack, it’s a dream when your pack give you front-foot ball. If you’re playing on the front foot you can do anything. Even if you put the world’s best players on the back foot, they can sometimes look very average. To have front foot ball like we did at the weekend, I thought the forwards were outstanding. That was a really big emphasis for us, getting over the gainline, and that gave us the platform to score some really good tries.
“Supporters always want their team to do well and you do sense that, especially on the back of last year doing so well, so there’s bound to be a lot of expectation and it was great to hear the fans getting behind us last Sunday. When times haven’t been great, as a squad we’ve stayed very tight within the group and that’s the main thing.”