Wasps use Covid scare to fuel title tilt as Willis admits fearing dream was over

Jack Willis has won every individual prize along with pretty much every breakdown in English club rugby’s longest season.

But the Wasps star says he would give up all the personal accolades for his club to emerge from their Covid nightmare as champions of England.

At Twickenham this evening the Coventry outfit take on European kings Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership grand final.

They do so after Brad Shields, Kieran Brookes, Simon McIntyre and Alfie Barbeary were ruled out of selection by a coronavirus outbreak which came within a whisker of forcing Wasps to forfeit.

“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few moments when I thought ‘the dream is over',” Willis admitted yesterday. “It does go through your head."

Unlike tomorrow’s England-Barbarians game, cancelled due to a bunch of Baa-Baa Covidiots breaching protocols, Wasps were blameless.

Still, they have paid a high price, the loss of four key forwards increasing the odds on Exeter getting the ball into the red zone from where they seldom return empty handed.


“They are extremely dangerous in that area,” Willis conceded. “But we don’t give up without a bit of a fight.”

It is too simplistic to say one family stands between Chiefs and the ‘double’ but, with Jack and brother Tom in Wasps’ back row, only just.

Boss Lee Blackett will need them to exert the same influence they have throughout Wasps’ remarkable post-lockdown surge to the final if the trophy is to be added to Willis’ creaking mantlepiece.

“I would trade all of my awards in order to win this one,” said ‘Jackal-ing’ Jack. “It's been a crazy couple of weeks what with those and the ups and downs of the Covid stuff.

“It could have been 50/50 on the plug being pulled going into Tuesday testing and waiting for the results on Wednesday.

“But as much as everyone probably thought the game wasn’t going to go ahead we kept the mindset that it would. That it's not done 'til it's done.


“We’ve spent the last eight weeks prepping for a succession of games with short turnarounds and done alright. So who needs a full training week? Let’s crack on and get into it.”

Exeter are in their fifth successive Premiership final but have won only one – ironically against Wasps, after extra-time, in 2017.

In contrast that is Wasps’ only ever defeat in the league showpiece, having taken the crown four times between 2003-08.

The 12-year gap since Lawrence Dallaglio lifted the trophy is, however, a reminder of the need for today’s team to grab this opportunity.

“Young lads might think we will have a final every couple of years,” said Willis. “But it doesn't work like that.”

Win or lose, what rugby needs is an occasion to remember – to distract from the deep embarrassment caused by tomorrow’s cancellation.

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Devoto, Woodburn; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Skinner, Hill, Ewers, Kirsten, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Gray, Vermeulen, Hidalgo-Clyne, Steenson, Whitten.

Wasps: Minozzi; Kibirige, de Jongh, Gopperth, Bassett; Umaga, Robson; West, Taylor, Toomaga-Allen, Launchbury (capt), Rowlands, J Willis, Young, T Willis.

Replacements: Oghre, Harris, Alo, Gaskell, Morris, Vellacott, Sopoaga, Le Bourgeois.

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