Even at this late stage of the campaign, it is a feast for the eyes – not to mention the soul – to witness a young, strutting, super-confident Englishman forged in the fires of the Wasps academy tripping the light fantastic in the spring sunshine, scoring a couple of wonderful individual tries and confirming himself as an international-class half-back in the making. Danny Cipriani? Yes, he played too.
We are talking here of Joe Simpson, whose cutting-edge work against Bristol at the Memorial Ground yesterday afternoon was, to say the very least, startling. The first of his tries, 13 minutes after the interval, saw him slip away from a line-out on halfway – Mariano Sambucetti, the home side's Argentine lock, thought he had him, but thought wrong – and set off on an out-in-out run upfield before scoring with a flourish.
The second was another individual effort, this time from a scrum. Wherever there was space, the 20-year-old exploited it at pace. On the basis that he is some player now, he will be a hell of a player very soon.
Cipriani also had his moments with ball in hand, touching down in the left corner and running virtually the length from Riki Flutey's sweet inside pass, only to overcook a kick inside after being hunted down by Tom Arscott. "He'll score that try next season," said Shaun Edwards, the Wasps coach.
He was not suggesting for a moment that the golden boy had lost so much pace that he cannot cover 100m in anything less than five months. Edwards was referring to the pin that still holds the stand-off's ankle together. Once the metal is removed from the bone, he expects his No 10 to be back up to speed.
"Both our half-backs offer big running threats," the coach continued. "That's what makes them special. There are lots of half-backs around who can distribute the ball. Not all of them can run like those two." For his part, the Wasps director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, was bowled over by Simpson's contribution.
"He's done it all at age-group level, but it's a steep learning curve for a player when he gets involved with the big boys," he said. "He's getting better as we give him more and more games. I'm delighted with that performance."
Of the other contenders for the Lions tour of South Africa this summer, which McGeechan just happens to be running with Edwards among his chief lieutenants, there was mixed news.
Tom Rees, who might be a candidate at open-side flanker if the Lions hierarchy selects David Wallace, of Ireland, as a No 8, played beautifully for 20 minutes before making a couple of mistakes and departing, in considerable pain, with a shoulder injury. Paul Sackey, who would have been a Lions Test starter had the Springbok series been played last June rather than this, was also crocked. Again.
Simon Shaw, by contrast, had himself a ball. Or rather, he took ownership of the ball and declined to give anyone else so much as a sniff of it for long periods. Playing against his old club on his old stamping ground, he made so much happen for Wasps in open field, he might have been playing at centre.
"He's a bright, clever footballer with a good rugby head on him," said McGeechan, admiringly. "He has this habit of finding himself in possession in open field and doing something positive with it." Shaw for the Lions, then? McGeechan wasn't saying, but it would be no great surprise.
The Londoners are most unlikely to feature in next season's Heineken Cup, for the very good reason that their qualification hinges on Bourgoin – the peculiarly inconsistent French club – bucking their own trend and performing well enough in Europe to win the second-string Challenge Cup, thereby opening up a place in the elite tournament for the team finishing seventh in the Guinness Premiership table.
Wasps are not even guaranteed that seventh spot, although their form yesterday suggested Gloucester will not relish the final-round trip to Adams Park next weekend. Bristol, of course, are perfectly aware of what lays in store for them. Second-division rugby, that's what.
They were committed enough yesterday, as they should have been on their last home Premiership appearance for at least 17 months, but if truth be told, Wasps made a mess of them. While the West Countrymen are keeping hold of some of their better young players, they will lose a good deal of experience in the end-of-season fall-out. But for the wretched Experimental Law Variations, which ate into their areas of greatest strength, they might have stayed up. Beware the law-makers, for they know not what damage they do.
Scorers: Bristol: Tries Phillips, Robinson; Conversion Barnes; Penalties Barnes (2). Wasps: Tries Simpson (2), Lewsey, Cipriani, Betsen; Conversions Cipriani (4); Penalty Cipriani.
Bristol: L Arscott; L Robinson, L Eves, J Fatialofa (T Arscott, 56; M Turner, 71), D Lemi; E Barnes, S Perry (H Thomas, 66); M Irish, S Linklater (O Hayes, 69), W Thompson (D Crompton, 11-24, 26-32 and 34), M Sambucetti (R Winters, 53), R Sidoli (capt), A To'oala (J Phillips, 53), R Pennycook, D Ward-Smith.
Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey (L Mitchell, 8), D Waldouck, R Flutey, J Lewsey; D Cipriani (J Staunton, 72), J Simpson (J Honeyben, 71); T Payne, R Webber (J Ward, 74), P Barnard (C Beech, 13-24), S Shaw, G Skivington, S Betsen, T Rees (capt, J Hart, 32), J Worsley.
Referee: J P Doyle (Ireland).Reuse content