Young: Toulouse match a Cup Final
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It may be five months before the trophies are handed out at the end of the season, but Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young has described his side's Round Five Champions Cup clash with Toulouse as "a Cup Final".
Wasps, semifinalists in both the Champions Cup and Premiership last season, ended 2016 on a high with a win at Newcastle that enabled them to leapfrog the reigning English and European champions Saracens and go top of the table.
But with Leicester Tigers and Toulouse to come at home in their next two fixtures, Young is not allowing his players to get ahead of themselves. The game against Tigers is now a massive Midlands derby match, while the outcome of the game against Toulouse could determine who wins Pool Two in the Champions Cup.
Three times are currently tied on 13 points - Wasps, Toulouse and Pro12 champions Connacht - going into the final two rounds. Wasps end with a trip to bottom of the table Zebre, while Connacht have to travel to Toulouse after hosting Zebre in Round Five.
Toulouse showed their improved form last weekend when they beat TOP 14 leaders ASM Clermont Auvergne at home and they will arrive at the Ricoh Arena hoping to make up for the last minute slip that allowed Wasps to steal a draw at Stade Ernest Wallon in Round Two thanks to a 78th minute try from Nathan Hughes that Jimmy Gopperth converted to make it 20-20.
"The game against Toulouse is a cup final for both teams. If we win that game we have to back ourselves to win in Zebre because, without being disrespectful, if we don't win there we don't deserve to be in the quarter-finals," Young told epcrugby.com.
"We're a little bit in front of where we hoped to be at this point in what we call phase two of the season. We wanted to have enough points to be sitting in the top four and to have qualified for the European quarterfinals when we finish the European pool games in Zebre.
"But if we don't get the next few weeks right, that could all go horribly wrong. The next three or four games could put us in front of where we hoped to be, but by the same measure if we lose the next couple of games, and things don't go right against Toulouse, we'd be behind."
Young is about to get a timely injury boost with the return of props Simon McIntyre and Jake Cooper-Woolley, while England back row stalwart James Haskell is almost ready to return. He was named in the England squad for the upcoming Six Nations campaign as he finally puts a toe injury behind him.
The 31-year-old Haskell helped England complete the Grand Slam in the 2016 Six Nations and was a European Cup winner with Wasps way back in 2007, when they won the title for the second time with a 25-9 victory over Leicester Tigers at Twickenham.
He also featured in the 2011 Challenge Cup final with Stade Francais Paris when they were pipped in Cardiff by Harlequins.