THEO VUKASINOVIC insists this weekend’s Premiership Rugby Cup clash with Sale Sharks is not a “dead rubber” for the players with the second-row set to make his first Wasps appearance in almost a year.
Vukašinović was sidelined for 11 months with an Achilles injury before recently making his return to action with Ampthill in the Championship.
And the 25-year-old last pulled on a Wasps jersey against the same opponents back in March 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury later in the match.
However, the former London Scottish man now hopes to put his injury woe behind him and stake a claim for a regular place in the Wasps lineup.
Vukašinović said: “For me personally, there will be a few guys in that don’t get as much game time, that’s all the motivation people need, the attitude and culture Sale Sharks have is they’re going out to win every game and it’s the same with us, we’re going out to win every game as well.
“If you want to call it a dead rubber, call it a dead rubber, but it’s definitely not for the players on the pitch, we’re prepared for them to put a strong side out, we’re going to go as hard as we can to bring home the win.
“I’ve been knocking Lee [Blackett’s] door down every week asking when I’m going to be put in, it starts from Saturday, putting my best foot forward and showing why I should be wearing a jersey for Wasps again in the Premiership or any other competition we play in, it’s an exciting time to start playing again.
“The second-row’s we have and the competition in the second-row is unbelievable, Joe [Launchbury] is away with England, it’s tough but it’s not a bad thing, I’d rather be earning that shirt off a player who is world-class than drifting into a position I’ve not really earnt.
“The stuff you learn off those senior players: Elliott Stooke, James Gaskell, Vaea Fifita and Joe – you can’t really compare it.”
And Wasps have shown their confidence in Vukašinović’s ability after he signed a new deal with the club at the end of February despite his long absence with injury.
Vukašinović added: “I’m really looking forward to it, I was out for 11 months, I played two comeback games with Ampthill, I really enjoyed those games more than I have in a long time, I just really appreciated being there.
“Back with Wasps, I’m really excited to put on the Wasps shirt again and hopefully I can pick up where I left off with a good run of games and try and get my hands on the jersey again.
“It’s tricky, in training when you first come back you have a few self-doubts but sometimes being out benefits you as well, you appreciate being on the pitch a lot more and you can work on your weaknesses.
“As I’ve trained more and more, my confidence has grown a lot, once you get up to speed you realise you still have it in you, [the new contract] was massive, I didn’t really see it coming.
“All credit to Lee and the other coaches, they’ve shown some faith in me which was a massive boost and it gives me a really nice platform to push on from where I am at the moment.”
Reflecting on his brief spell with Championship Ampthill earlier this season, Vukašinović believes the gap is not growing between English rugby’s top two tiers.
He said: “I wouldn’t say the gap is massive [between the Premiership and Championship], it’s different rugby really, detail is a lot higher in the Premiership and the fitness of the players is something that makes a big difference over the whole 80 minutes of a game.
“In the Championship, you get some teams that play some unbelievable rugby and the amount of players that have come up from the Championship and done well – it’s a good league and a league that produces a good level of rugby as well.
“The differences are the speed of the game and the fitness of the players, that comes from everyone in the Premiership being full-time, you have those discrepancies in the Championship where not all the teams are full-time so they can’t keep on top of that fitness as much.
“The gap isn’t growing at all, the Championship is a very strong league and produces some really good players.”
Wasps clash with Sale takes place tomorrow (Saturday, March 19) with kick-off at 1pm at the AJ Bell Stadium.