Wasps may have lost to Exeter Chiefs last weekend but a home semi-final still beckons for Dai Young’s side if they can beat bottom club London Irish at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday and Harlequins can do them a favour.
Young’s men have enjoyed a fantastic campaign to-date, reaching the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup and guaranteeing a top-four-finish in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
But defeats against Saracens and Exeter in recent weeks, domestically and in Europe, has left Young searching for a winning formula against the league’s top two if they want to end the season with silverware.
Few would bet against Wasps producing a bonus-point win against the Exiles in Coventry but Young is taken nothing for granted.
“We’ve had two big games in a row where we’ve struggled to get any pattern in our game against teams playing with a rush defence,” he said.
“We weren’t shortening their defence, so they could gain linespeed and stop us getting width in our game.
“We’ve got to find ways to get quicker ball and attacking width, which we failed to do against Sarries or Exeter who have the two most aggressive defences in the Premiership.
“It’ll be a bit different this weekend as Irish don’t use the rush, but if we play Exeter or Sarries again in the semi-finals we have to tinker with our structures to come up with the answers.
“Irish haven’t had a big score put past them all year and have been pretty competitive in most games they’ve played.
“They’re a proud group and no-one is going to rejoice in seeing any team going down, especially as we were on the brink four years ago, so we know what they’re going through.
“A home semi-final is out of our hands, but Exeter have got to go to Quins, which will be especially difficult with it being Conor’s last game and Quins fighting for sixth and Europe, so a win there’s not a given.
“Last season was a 40-all draw, so we won’t be under-estimating Irish, and we need to make sure we apply our gameplan, are nice and tidy and we come away with a win.”
Ruaridh Jackson and Joe Simpson form the half-back pairing for Wasps, while Josh Bassett comes in on the wing for Frank Halai.
Ashley Johnson starts at hooker, with Edd Shervington covering on the bench. Carlo Festuccia sits out the game with a sore neck.
The only other change to the starting XV sees Thomas Young at open-side, alongside no. 8 Nathan Hughes and skipper James Haskell, with George Smith rested. Sam Jones comes onto the bench.
London Irish's only victory in the last ten rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby was 23-18 at home to Gloucester on March 20, with the Exiles the only side in Premiership Rugby this season to have lost all ten away games so far.
Wasps are unbeaten in their last three Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures against London Irish and recorded a try bonus on each occasion. The Exiles have won only once on Wasps soil since 2006: 23-20 at Adams Park in February 2014.
But London Irish director of rugby Tom Coventry is hoping to finish a below-par campaign for the Exiles on a high this weekend.
Coventry has made five changes from the side that played Harlequins last week Greig Tonks makes his first start for the Club at full back in the only change in the back line from last weekend, replacing Sean Maitland.
Johnny Harris and Ben Franks are both named in the front row alongside David Paice. Joe Trayfoot and Ofisa Treviranus line-up in the back row alongside Captain Luke Narraway.
“It has been an incredibly tough week for everyone at the Club, but the boys are motivated and keen to end the season on a high note,” said Coventry.
“Wasps have had a great year and they will be desperate to get the points, but our guys are ready to go up there and wear the green jersey with pride.
“We’ve looked at the video from last week’s game and we’ve spoken about the areas in which we want to improve going into this weekend. It’s important the lads are prepared and ready to put in a good performance.
“We have selected a side that we believe can perform at a high level against a team that have had a very good season, regardless of what is at stake in tomorrow’s fixture.”
Referee: Tom Foley (20th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner & Kevin Stewart. TMO: Stuart Terheege.