Lee Blackett full of praise for ‘phenomenal’ Jack Willis

Date published: October 10 2020

Wasps head coach Lee Blackett hailed England hopeful Jack Willis’ quality after his team destroyed Premiership play-off rivals Bristol 47-24.

Uncapped flanker Willis scored a try and was in dominant form throughout at the Ricoh Arena as England head coach Eddie Jones looked on.

And on current form, it is hard to see how the 23-year-old cannot enter Jones’ thinking for England’s six-Test autumn schedule.

“I don’t think Jack needs to do anything,” Blackett said. “He has put himself out there and it is now up to Eddie if he wants to select him.

“I don’t think he is the finished product. He has always been unbelievable over the ball – ever since he was tackling his brother in the back garden. His breakdown work is phenomenal.”

Blackett says that Wasps will keep their emotions under wraps after reaching a first Premiership final for three years and making it 12 wins from their last 13 league games.

“(Wasps captain) Joe (Launchbury) addressed the team afterwards, and his big comment was to enjoy it, but that we haven’t played our final,” Blackett added.

“Sometimes you think you have played your final to get there, and there is a lot of emotion gone in, so we just need to control ourselves.

“Yes, enjoy it, but in two weeks’ time we have got a big game coming up. It is about keeping our emotions under wraps.”

Wasps ran in tries from Willis, centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrum-half Dan Robson, wing Zach Kibirige and full-back Matteo Minozzi, while 37-year-old centre Jimmy Gopperth landed nine kicks out of 11 for a 22-point haul.

Shell-shocked Bristol, who play Toulon in the European Challenge Cup final next week, managed tries in reply by wing Luke Morahan, hooker Harry Thacker, full-back Max Malins and substitute scrum-half Harry Randall, with Callum Sheedy adding two conversions – but two of those scores came from 35 points adrift.

Blackett paid tribute to veteran Gopperth and an outstanding defence that repeatedly stalled free-scoring Bristol.

“Jimmy is getting better and better towards the end of the season,” Blackett said.

“He had over a year out because of injury and couldn’t get himself back fit and now he’s fighting fit and absolutely key for us.

“He is a great leader who gives confidence and he always has a good feeling of what the game needs at the right time.

“Our defence is something we have spoken about for a long time.

“We have always had the ability as a team to score points, but when you get to the business-end of the season like now, defence normally wins it for you with your set-piece.”

Fekitoa a doubt

Blackett, meanwhile, believes that Fekitoa is a doubt for the October 24 Premiership final at Twickenham after he suffered a groin injury and limped off inside the opening 10 minutes.

“Malakai is such a competitive guy,” Blackett added. “He is obviously pretty gutted. I think he is a doubt for the final. Hopefully, we can create some magic with him.”

Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam was in philosophical mood after seeing his team’s Premiership campaign come to a halt.

“We turned the ball over 23 times and we gave away eight penalties on attack, which meant we couldn’t get a foothold in the game – but you have got to give a lot of credit to Wasps,” Lam said.

“At half-time we said there was no rocket science involved. We didn’t fire a shot because we made too many errors.

“When I was coaching at Connacht and looking at the Premiership, there was no mention of Bristol, and probably at the start of the season probably nobody predicted that Bristol would be in play-off rugby.

“To grow and get to the sort of team we want to be, we’ve got to be playing in this sort of rugby.”