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Opponents in Focus - London Wasps

27th September 2006

London Wasps travel to Cardiff this Saturday having suffered their first defeat of the season last weekend, so they will be keen to turn in a good performance to kick off their defence of the EDF Energy Cup.

The new season has seen an interesting injection of new blood to the Wasps squad. Seven new signings made by Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan over the summer, include three amongst the tight five to bolster Wasps’ pack, and their introduction certainly seems to have done the trick, as Wasps’ supporters have been treated to the welcome sight of a powerful Wasps pack in their team’s opening games in the Premiership.

Whilst new lock Tom Palmer has already reaped an early reward of his good form with a call up to England training this week, the combination of forwards coach Craig Dowd and the increased competition generated by the new players has produced some spectacular form, from Wasps props Tim Payne and Peter Bracken in particular.

Club captain Lawrence Dallaglio and Irish international flanker Jonny O’Connor, both of whom have yet to play this season due to injury will no doubt strengthen the Wasps pack even more – though will have stiff competition on their hands to win back the 8 and 7 shirts respectively. The likes of England U21 back rowers Tom Rees and James Haskell will be hard for McGeechan to ignore, and if wunderkind open side Rees can stay fit, this could be the year he really establishes himself on the English senior scene.

Other young players are also responding to the challenge well, and some big performances in Guinness A league games for the likes of prop Alistair McKenzie, lock Martin Purdy are winning them their fair share of pitch time with the 1XV.

The newcomers to the back division have also made an early impact. Wasps Middlesex Sevens winning squad was led by new scrum half signing and England Sevens Captain Amor, and their comprehensive win over perennial rivals Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in the final was a very welcome start to the new season.

However, Wasps regulars of season’s past have been making sure the newcomers don’t get all the limelight. In the back three Josh Lewsey is looking refreshed and sharp after his first proper summer off in seven years, and Paul Sackey is in a fine vein of form. His four tries in the last fortnight have taken him to the top of the Premiership try scorers’ table and his career tally to an impressive 53, making him one of only four players in the history of the Premiership to score 50 tries. The notable absentee at the back however is Mark Van Gisbergen, who has yet to play a competitive game this season after fracturing his jaw in Wasps last pre-season game in August.

Competition at half back is also keen, with Staunton and King being challenged by new No10 Dave Walder who has had a good start to the season Meanwhile, Amor is keeping the pressure on Irish international scrum half Eoin Reddan, who in turn is starting to re-find his match fitness after a groin injury meant he was late starting the season.

Centre Fraser Waters, whose luck with injury over the last two year has been utterly miserable, is also threatening to nail down a good run of fitness, and he is a trump card in any team’s midfield. However, which side will play the winning hand this Saturday remains to be seen.