Simpson can’t wait for ‘huge European clash’

As Wasps prepare for Saturday’s European Champions Cup clash with four-time winners Toulouse at the Ricoh Arena, Joe Simpson who's set to make his 200th Wasps appearance, says the squad are well aware of how big the game is.

As we approach round five of the European Champions Cup, Pool 2 of the competition makes for interesting reading. After Wasps’ controversial last-minute defeat in Galway, they still sit top of the group, but only on points difference, with a three-way tie setting up a photo finish in the race for a spot in the knockout stages.

All three of Wasps, Toulouse and Connacht could secure themselves a place in the last eight over the course of the next two games, with Wasps and Toulouse coming head-to-head this Saturday in Coventry. 

The group is delicately poised, and that fact is not lost on Joe Simpson, who lights up at mention of the game.

“We’re all looking forward to this weekend, he said. ‘It’s set to be a great spectacle and a huge European clash. Two of the top European teams going head-to-head ultimately for a place in the knockout stages of the competition.

“It should be a fantastic clash. You’ve got two teams with contrasting styles and it’s set up to be a great game. There’s a French side who are physically very dominant and then there’s us, who probably don’t have the same size and will be looking to push the pace of the game, spread the ball and get it into the hands of some of our live-wires who can cut anyone on their day.

“It’s two very different leagues that we play in. The French Top 14 is slightly slower paced, very physical and set piece orientated, whereas our league is a bit more structured in terms of phase play, so it’s definitely a clash of styles. We obviously didn’t manage to get dominance when we went out there, but at the same time we finished strongly in the last 20 minutes and if the game had lasted another five or ten minutes we might have pipped them.

“We need to make a good start and try to tire them out early by putting them through a few phases in the opening part of the game and not leave it so late this time.

“We’re expecting an abrasive first 50 or 60 minutes. It may turn out that not a lot of scoring will be done in that first period, but a lot of the damage will be done then. We have to make sure our defence is right up there and ensure that we are the side that finishes strongly. Whether that’s us having to close the game out or us chasing the game in that last part.”

Wasps will return to the Ricoh Arena this weekend after last Sunday’s win over Leicester Tigers, which saw over 27,000 supporters in attendance, backing up another big crowd on Christmas Eve, and Simpson says the squad are hoping for more of the same as they take on French giants Toulouse.

“We’re all looking forward to being back at the Ricoh Arena this Saturday. We’ve got a pitch that plays very fast, so you can throw the ball around a bit more, as opposed to the pitch we played on out in Toulouse, which was a bit sluggish under foot. We’re really looking forward to having the support of the crowd again like we did last week. Toulouse was a hostile place to play, so it will be great to have the crowd on our side again at the Ricoh, where our Wasps fans are always a great source of energy for us.

“The last two matches that we’ve had, the crowd have been absolutely outstanding. We’ve had almost a full house for both of those games and you can really feel that sense of urgency from the crowd and that just translates onto the field. It gives the players a real buzz and gives you the confidence and ability to push yourself, so we’re hoping for another big crowd at the weekend.”

Simpson has shared the scrum half duties pretty evenly with Dan Robson, and he admits that the battle for the starting nine shirt is hotly contested, but says he understands the need for depth in the squad if they are to compete for honours.

“I think any player would be lying if they said they don’t want to be playing in every single match, but at the same time you need to recognise a squad has to have two players in every position if you really want to be a side pushing to win the Premiership . Otherwise you get one person injured and the whole team is struggling. In our squad, you have to have two strong nines. 

“The game is so fast-paced that one scrum half lasting the full 80 minutes is close to impossible, especially at the tempo we want to play at. You have to have someone on the bench capable of coming on and switching the tempo back up again for the last part of the game. It also gives the starter the license to fly around the pitch, knowing they won’t have to play all the way to the end.”

Tickets for Wasps' must-win European Clash with Toulouse at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday 14 January, kick-off 3.15pm, are still available to purchase online here.

A large crowd is expected, so please book early to avoid disappointment. Tickets start from £15 and under 10s go free!