Magic combination: Cipriani and Le Roux
ANALYSIS: Wasps have uncovered a magic combination this year with flyhalf Danny Cipriani and Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux.
The two playmakers compliment each other and both flourish in the Wasps system. One would expect replacing Charles Piutau and Kurtley Beale would disrupt the attacking rhythm but the Wasps attack is firing on all cylinders a month into Cipriani’s return from injury.
The Wasps structure has helped him reach arguably his career-best form – and is a guide on how to maximise his talent.
Offence is defence
The Wasps attack is based on two principles – width and possession – and they adhere to both extremely well.
Holding the ball is paramount with Wasps, very rarely do they kick away possession. They back themselves to work into good field position from anywhere outside their own 22.
Cipriani conducts proceedings from first receiver, receiving a high volume of touches as he maps phases back and forth across the park, deciding when to hit forwards or link with fullback Le Roux.
Wasps often string upwards of twenty phases together – their continuity controls the tempo of the game, slowly wears down the defensive line and most importantly keeps the ball away from the opposition for long stretches.
It is often said that the best form of defence is offence – the opposition can’t score without the ball. This is certainly true with Wasps – after nearly 20 minutes in the clash against Bath, Wasps had made eight tackles compared to Bath’s 61 and led 19-0 on the scoreboard.
Their phase play is built on quick ball movement and no team uses width like Wasps in the Premiership. Defenses are stretched to the limits as Cipriani and Le Roux shift play with efficient short, medium and long-range passing.
Despite the wide shifts, it seems like there is minimal risk when the ball is going through the hands of these two.
Catch us if you can
Le Roux is almost impossible to shut down on the edges, even a decent rush defence cannot wrap him up with the ball in hand – he is a magician adept at pulling off an ‘escape’ pass seemingly every time.
His finishing prowess with the pass are second to none – he has 13 try assists across European rugby this season, 11 in the Premiership.
What doesn’t show up on the stat sheets is often Cipriani’s involvement in the lead-up work. It is often his late touch and willingness to take it to the line that holds defenders providing space for Le Roux to cash in on the outside.
With Cipriani and Le Roux positioned inside the middle third, all it takes is two passes from the ruck to whip the ball to the fringes where Le Roux has been setting up tries all year.
Wasps play a beautiful, expansive game crafted by the artists Cipriani and Le Roux.
Overload Sweep Plays
The set-piece, in particular, is becoming the masterpiece of their game using a variety of ‘overload sweep’ plays.
Wasps are always looking to attack wide through elaborate backline play. Where teams are now using set piece platforms to reset structure, nearly every set piece by Wasps will involve a wide raid looking for a quick strike.
They incorporate a number of ‘motion’ concepts into their plays – where the key playmakers align in one spot and run in motion a fair distance before receiving the ball at speed wider out, adding an element of deception. Cipriani, in particular, runs a high number of these ‘sweep’ lines.
On this play above, Cipriani (10) will sweep wide behind the centre decoy line, while winger Christian Wade (14) will play first reciever and fed Jimmy Gopparth (12) before Gopparth plays Cipriani behind the screen pass.
The blind side winger (14 below) will often run another sweep line in an attempt to ‘overload’ the far side to create the numbers mismatch.
When Wasps get it right, the plays are a thing of beauty and almost impossible to stop at the speed at which they are run.
Below is a ‘double screen overload’ with both mid-fielders running decoy lines. Cipriani will receive behind the first screen pass and then dish to Wade on the second screen pass, creating a numbers advantage on the far side.
Wasps ‘Double screen’ overload play. The white line tracks the passes between two screens.
Cipriani, who is so skilled at flirting with the line, holds up the defenders and creates an opportunity against the opposite winger who is left to cover an acre of pasture.
Wasps use the same double screen overload play against Saracens to score a crucial try. Wade injects into the backline with devastating effect, setting up Le Roux for the try.
The commitment to play attacking rugby is paying off for Wasps, who have had a resurgence in the Premiership of late. They know they can score at any time from set-piece play and points are always around the corner if they control the ball.
In Round 10 against Leicester, Wasps were down late 22-20 before running this overload play to stun the Tigers and take the lead 25-22.
Leicester hot on attack shortly after opted to take the three and draw things up at 25-all with 12 minutes remaining.
Despite being equal on the scoreboard, the two teams were anything but similar.
Leicester’s attack has been disjointed and out-of-sync all season, despite being in close games, they have struggled to play with anywhere near the same attractiveness, finesse and intent as Wasps.
The Tigers botched a number of set pieces with basic errors in the last 10 minutes, giving Wasps numerous set piece opportunities of their own.
Each play tested Leicester but didn’t quite come off. The last play resulted in 19 phases under Cipriani’s guidance, and a simple short ball from the flyhalf saw Wasps score the game-winner on the buzzer.
Just reward for playing the game in fine fashion.
The 30-year-old flyhalf is off contract after the season, however, after showing a rich vein of form since returning from a knee injury he should be a valuable pickup by a French club or another Premiership side.
If any side is looking at Cipriani, they must play an attractive brand of pass-heavy, possession-based rugby to get the best of him. He may have lost a yard of pace, but his touch is still sublime.
The more opportunities you give him, the better your return will be as Wasps have shown the blueprint to unlocking the best of Cipriani.