Wasps head coach Lee Blackett assessed his players’ chances of gaining England recognition this summer following the comeback win over London Irish.
With Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis and Paolo Odogwu all out long-term with knee injuries and Alfie Barbeary playing just twice in 2021, Dan Robson is Wasps’ stand-out contender to make Eddie Jones’ squad for the A match with Scotland and Test matches against USA and Canada – which is announced later this week.
Blackett named a staring 15 at the Brentford Community Stadium that contained 12 players eligible for England and many of them shone as the visitors came from 23 points behind to win 39-36.
Prop Tom West, briefly called into the Guinness Six Nations squad earlier this year, was instrumental in the victory that kept Wasps’ hopes of Heineken Champions Cup rugby alive with one round remaining.
“Tom’s put in some good performances this season,” said Blackett. “I am delighted with Tom, in the last five or six years when I’ve known him, he has been scrapping, getting the odd game here and there. In the last 12 months he has been outstanding, he has performed really well and hopefully he is putting his hand up for selection.”
He wasn’t the only Tom to catch the eye as Willis, the younger brother of Jack, scored a hat-trick in a man-of-the-match performance. The treble capped a stunning turnaround in the 22-year-old’s form, who recently lost his place in the matchday squad and appeared in a behind-closed-doors under-23s friendly against London Irish in April.
“We’ve always known about his ability,” said Blackett. “I think he had a little bit of a blip in the middle of the season, but he is coming back strong. In the last couple of games he has done a great job for us. I am really happy with his form. He is basically just like his brother. Both of them are exactly the same. How far they get in their rugby career won’t be down to any lack of effort, they give it absolutely everything. They train ridiculously hard.
“There’s plenty of things for Tom to keep working on, there’s a great player in there.”
Robson moved to 12 England caps during the Six Nations and has returned to his club and hit top form alongside half-back partner Umaga, another player who has been selected by Jones in recent times without making his Test debut.
“Dan has had a really good last five or six weeks, I’ve been really happy with him,” added Blackett. “Jacob is returning to the form that he was and getting better. There’s little parts of his game that are getting better.”
Josh Bassett’s brace saw the towering winger move to nine tries scored in his last 11 games. His first-half interception gave Wasps a fighting chance and also saw him atone for not converting a similar attempt, albeit from further out, in the defeat to Northampton Saints last week, when he was hunted down by Ollie Sleightholme 20 metres from the line.
“Josh Bassett has been outstanding all year,” added Blackett. “Anyone who comes into the environment the first person they always say to me, Josh Bassett stands out. Because they don’t expect what they’re going to get from him. He’s a good leader for us, he’s so passionate about the club. He has a big say in a lot that we do. I think everyone just thinks he’s this gangly winger, but he thinks about the game and I can’t say enough positives about Josh.
“He puts himself in those positions. I think last week when he got the intercept, Sleightholme caught him, Josh actually ran a personal best when he was sprinting with the ball, which tells us how quick Sleightholme actually is.”
Teenager Charlie Atkinson, who like Umaga was named in the shadow squad for the Six Nations, started for a third successive game at fullback and weighed in with another encouraging contribution in just his 15th Premiership appearance.
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