Wasps’ European dreams were cut short last weekend as they were beaten 24-17 by Saracens in the Semi Final, but this week the men in black and gold refocus on the domestic campaign, with a top-two finish and home Semi Final in their sights.
In their way stand Exeter Chiefs who, having narrowly missed out to Wasps in the European Quarter Finals, will be intent on setting the record straight this Sunday at Sandy Park, where they have lost just once in the league all season.
With that challenge ahead of them, Frank Halai says that Wasps must refocus quickly.
“It was a hard one to take,” said Halai of Saturday’s European loss. “We’ve worked so hard to get out of our group and then to get through to the Semi Finals but we have to pick ourselves up now. We have another Semi Final to look forward to in the Premiership so we now start again with another big game this weekend.
“I think the start of the game we did very well for our first try. It wasn’t just one break, we built into that score with good phases, then going out to the left before coming back across the field to the right where Charles managed to get his hands through the tackle to release Christian who gave it to Dan to score.
“After that try Saracens showed their ability in defence, bringing a lot of line speed and forcing us to kick a lot more than we would’ve liked or than we’re used to. For most of the game their line speed was very good and we couldn’t get over the gain line to let us go out wide. In saying that, every time they had the ball they did manage to get over the gain line, and whoever does that makes it a lot easier for themselves.
“When we came back into the club this morning it was definitely quieter than usual but we have a good group here and as soon as we went into the rugby outside everything picked up and people started to have some fun. There’s a good bunch of boys, we all enjoy each other’s company. We know there’s a big game coming up this weekend but we have to enjoy it, that’s when you play your best rugby.”
Since arriving at the club last summer from Auckland Blues, Halai has quickly become a permanent fixture in the side, with his physical displays, borne of his 6ft 5in stature, perfectly complementing his wing partner Christian Wade.
Halai says that it has taken him time to adjust to the Aviva Premiership but he is enjoying every minute of it.
“I think that everyone who comes from Super Rugby has to give themselves some time to get used to it. The style of play and the weather is different over here so the first few games were definitely different for me. After I’d got used to it I was fine and I’m really enjoying myself now.
“I think it’s been really good for me to come to Wasps. The way we want to play the game is very similar to what I’m used to back at home; we want to play with the ball and I can’t complain about that. Defensively it’s been quite different, sides here like to use the kicking game a lot more and something I’ve worked very hard on since coming over from New Zealand is collecting the high ball. Most sides over here will use the kick against you.
“Lee [Blackett] always tells me to go looking for work. I think that’s the main difference in attack. I think I’m probably the slowest in the backline so I have to use my physicality! It’s great to have the players we have in this team. There are some very talented guys who can break out of nowhere so I just try to time my run to be able to score a try off them!
“To be honest I think most of the hard work is done by the guys inside me and I just have to be there to finish it off! A winger always loves scoring tries. When you have the guys we do it makes your job easier.
The presence of familiar faces in Siale and Charles Piutau, Alapati Leiua and Sailosi Tagicakibau has helped Halai’s transition into the side.
“I think it’s always nice when you go to a new environment to know some people already. Those guys have made it easier for me but the whole squad have been very welcoming and have made me feel at home. I’m really enjoying it.”
This week Wasps must refocus on their domestic campaign as they travel to one of the hardest away venues in the league. Exeter Chiefs have lost just once at Sandy Park in the league, and that was to the side that knocked Wasps out of the European Cup, Saracens.
“I think everyone knows, whether they’ve been there or not, how tough it is to go there and win. I’ve heard from the other boys how tough it is to win at Sandy Park and we know how big a game it is. Whoever wins the game is likely to get a home Semi Final and that’s something everyone here wants. The crowd at the Ricoh have been great for us and we want to have another game there.
“We’re not used to that many people coming to our games back home. The first time I went there I was shocked by the support. Our fans have been amazing all season so we feel like we owe them something. They turn up whatever the weather so to get a home Semi Final would be a great thing for us to give them.”