The fleet-footed flyer
February 23, 2013
The sight of Christian Wade racing away from flailing defences is becoming a familiar one © Getty Images
You could forgive Christian Wade for being slightly arrogant following an incredible 18 months that have seen him score 25 tries in 43 appearances for Wasps, but he is far from it. When speaking to him he is thoughtful and passionate about the sport in which he is building a reputation as one of rugby's most potent and lethal finishers.
Just ask the defences of most teams in the Premiership - the only sides he is yet to score against are Northampton, Sale and Worcester. While his try-scoring record is hugely impressive, when you look at the circumstances surrounding 13 of them, then the feat becomes even more remarkable.
By Wade's own admission, Wasps had a "disastrous" campaign last term. They avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth while fighting a well publicised battle to stay afloat and find a new owner. While they were toiling at the foot of the table, Wade's finishing kept their try-count ticking over with his hat-trick against Leicester in the early stages of the 2011-12 campaign simply sensational.
While the team battled a horrific injury list and a host of mid-season retirements - which included experienced internationals Steve Thompson, Joe Worsley and Tom Rees alongside club stalwart and captain John Hart - Dai Young turned to his youngsters to get them through the mire. And they flourished; Joe Launchbury is starting for England a year on while Wade is pushing for Test recognition. It was a campaign that made the man.
"All of the injuries and retirements meant us young guys had to step up and help keep the club afloat in the Premiership," Wade told ESPN. "That has given us a lot of strength - both mentally and physically - to help us cope this year. We all had to mature pretty quickly. If you look at other teams when they bring through younger players, they get a game here and there - maybe in the Anglo-Welsh Cup or the Amlin - where they get an opportunity to play and express themselves.
"But if you look at our team, we had young guys playing in week in week out and having to learn the way that Wasps play while also fronting up physically."
Fast-forward to this season and the contrast is akin to night and day. Wasps find themselves in the play-off mix in the Premiership and in the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup. Their ever well-spoken and modest coach would not have publicly targeted the play-offs at the start of the campaign and similarly, Wade is not going to raise his head above the parapet and predict success for his team this season.
"We know we have massive potential but we did not really talk too much about the play-offs for this season. For me personally it is going well - I am achieving the goals that I set out before the season. I wanted to have some consistency and to also show that I could mimic what I did last year which was scoring tries and playing well for the club."
Central to Wasps' charge up the table has been the form of their two wingers - Wade and Tom Varndell. While Wade is just starting out on his career in the Premiership, Varndell is just five tries off Mark Cueto at the top of the all-time Premiership scoring records. The pair have formed a deadly partnership and it is helping the younger of the two prosper.
"It's one of those things where we seem to read each other and click," Wade explained. "We have a good relationship off the pitch and before I played in the first-team he was a mentor for me at the club.
"We spent time going through video looking at moves or one-on-ones and when last season came and I graduated into the first-team we found a connection on the field. This year we have got even tighter - we are great friends and we have the ability to read off each other on the pitch. It's great to see Tom racing away at the top of the try-scoring charts with 11 already, which is more than the winner from last year, and I'm not doing too badly either.
"But it just works; it's one of those things that you sometimes find in other sports. If you look at basketball - that sport had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as well as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant - it's just one of those things, it evolves itself."
Wade grew up playing basketball and football and it was only when he arrived at his new school aged 11 - High Wycombe's Royal Grammar School - that he found rugby. Coincidentally, it was around this time that one Jason Robinson was helping England to their 2003 World Cup triumph and he immediately caught Wade's imagination. Here was someone holding the ball in two hands, running, jinking his way through defences - if you watch Wade's score against Gloucester last weekend then it is hard to ignore the clear similarities.
Excelling on the European stage © PA Photos
But while Test recognition inevitably awaits Wade, he is remaining focused on developing his own game. He is not getting carried away and when asked where he feels he needs to improve, he cites all manner of skills: defensive positioning, high balls, decision making in attack, handling and his kicking game all feature.
There are also the cautionary tales where players who have blossomed in their early years fail to live up to their billing - these can act as a frequent reminder to Wade. You cannot help but feel, however, that the same will not happen to the winger.
"I've always been grounded through the way my parents brought me up," Wade said. "Across the board we don't have anyone in the team who struggles to keep their feet on the ground as we are all here to do a job. I do not think our media team or staff allow for anyone to get above themselves."
The immediate goal for Wade is to continue putting in impressive performances for Wasps - something that was recently recognised when he was awarded the first Land Rover Discovery of the Month award - hoping that he will catch the eye of the national selectors.
England's tour of Argentina in the summer looks likely to offer the first of what could be many caps for the national side and he is hopeful that he can continue his form on the Test stage. If he manages this then Stuart Lancaster and the rest of his backroom staff will have to find a way to fit Wade into their ever-developing side.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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