By Gary Fitzgerald
NATHAN Hughes is adament there is no ‘panic’ or ‘crisis’ within the Wasps camp and shrugs off suggestions the club’s poor early season form could damage his England hopes.
The Fijian-born back rower believes it is only a matter of time before Dai Young’s side rediscover the kind of scintillating form which almost brought the domestic title to the Ricoh Arena last season, and saw them reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Hughes, 26, is determined to prove he is the best option Eddie Jones has of replacing Billy Vunipola in the No.8 jersey while the Saracens star continues his lengthy recovery from another devastating injury setback.
Quins back rower Jack Clifford is also injured, but there is the forgotten man Ben Morgan, who made his comeback for Gloucester on Thursday night.
Five successive defeats has placed a small dark cloud above Wasps, having entered a new season with huge hope and expectation of winning silverware.
After starting with two Premiership wins, they now lie in tenth place, 13 points adrift of leaders Saracens and endured a frustrating 19-9 opening Champions Cup loss at Ulster almost a fortnight ago.
Hughes insists: “There is no crisis here. Everyone has still got a smile on their face and no-one is in panic mode. We just have to fix the problems and my message to people is don’t write Wasps off just yet…we will be a strong team this season.
“Naturally, we are not happy with the way things have started for us. We had hoped for better in terms of performance and results but we have to deal with it. Great teams have challenges like this and an even greater team fights through them and comes out the other end.
“This is a hurdle we must overcome right now. We have to look at ourselves individually and collectively, see where things are going wrong and make sure we improve and get back to where we were last season.
“There is a lot of experience and strong characters at this club and we just need to put together three or four top performances on the field and the results will come for us.
“It’s disappointing not to have enjoyed some more success so far but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before we get on a roll.”
Hughes added: “I think the new rule that came in where people are bouncing out of tackles and not committing in the breakdown has stung us a bit. But if we want to progress and win a trophy we have to be smarter to try and cope with that problem.
“The confidence and spirit of the boys is still high; it’s just a case of cutting out the individual errors and then you will see the real Wasps out on the field.
The forward proved a more than useful stand-in for Vunipola during the Six Nations and then again in Argentina. Now, with big Billy facing four months on the sidelines with a knee cartilage injury, Hughes is in pole position to profit.
He said: “It was sad to see Billy injured again because he’s a great player. He came back from his first problem, played two games and then suffered another setback. That’s unlucky for him but I am sure he will come back strong again.
“I just have to focus on my own game and not worry about anything else. As long as I play well and do my own individual things right everything else will take care of itself. Eddie has told me to find things that will make me a better player every time I go out there onto the field.
“Playing for Wasps in Europe is another opportunity for me to show what I can do on a big stage. I’ve been lucky to get selected by England in the last year and if I get the chance to wear that white jersey again this autumn I will wear it with pride and do as well as I can.
Hughes played a pivotal role for England in the summer and he is relishing another crack at the Pumas. “Playing Argentina in their own backyard was an interesting experience. I’d never played against them before and to help the team come away with a 2-0 series win was a good achievement.
“Argentina is a very intimidating place to play with the crowds very noisy and against you. But we stayed composed and coped with everything they threw at us. All the new caps who were given the chance did very well for us.
“Eddie and the coaching staff try and make sure we are not comfortable with what we have done or what we have got, and that we keep challenging and pushing ourselves. There is always room for improvement and it makes sure the England team is moving in the right direction.”
By Gary Fitzgerald