It’s a long time since Sam Vesty’s nail-to-the-board try that wasn’t, and the weird sense of gallant relief which reverberated around Adams Park on the final-day loss to Newcastle. Those spring months were some of the darkest in London Wasps’ proud history, but now – thanks to Ken Moss and his consortium of aides – things are starting to look a little brighter in north-west London.
It isn’t fair to dwell on Wasps’ shortfalls of last season; they fell victim to one of the longest injury lists in the Premiership and, as a result, were forced to throw their young but exceptionally talented crop in at the deep-end.
Perhaps in Wasps’ case, the naivety of youth helped relieve the pressure which, in any ordinary workplace, would have left quaking knees over employees’ futures. But for these young guys who just wanted to play rugby, it was the ultimate stage on which to prove themselves. And so they did.
“If people are worried that they’re not going to get paid and so on, then that’s always going to play on peoples’ minds. But if anything, it should have had the other effect, if we had got relegated we would have probably been in a far blacker place,” said Wasps coach Dai Young.
Young was forced to play his cards early; he was not allowed the luxury of preening his young players until the time was right. Fortunately, for the Welshman, he had some aces who thrived in the relegation battle. Christian Wade, Elliot Daly and Joe Launchbury made a name for themselves, along with a number of other youngsters who all stepped-up and showed their worth.
Dai now wants to leave those dark days in the club’s past. When probed further on whether he ever doubted the club’s future, the answer was a resounding: “No.. Now have we got any rugby questions?” When a 50-capped Welsh front-row starts to get angry, you’re usually best-advised to do what he says. Now the takeover is complete, it is evident that the ball and chain of financial uncertainty are something the club want to shake loose quickly.
Had things turned out differently last season, Wasps would undoubtedly have struggled to keep hold of their highly regarded youngsters. But with the club’s future secure, a collective sigh of relief can be felt around Adam’s Park, with Wasps now boasting one of the most talented set-ups in the Premiership.
As a club with traditionally high standards, the likes of Launchbury and Wade will be at the heart of the rebuilding process, as they hope to one day emulate the glory days of Dallaglio and Lewsey. They have a long way to go, but there is no harm in setting ambitious long-term targets.
“We’re proud of Wasps history and tradition but we’ve got to forget it – it’s not this group of players,” claimed Young.
The early signs of the new revolution are promising. Young described the rugby in the opening day defeat to Harlequins as some of the best he’s seen during his time at the club. An emphatic 40-3 victory over London Irish also added fire to the cause.
“Our performances have been good enough to give us encouragement, but not that good that we feel as if we’re out of the woods.
“There’s enough there to realise ‘yes, we could be a very good team,’ but there’s still lots to improve on.”
Young recognised the lack of “steadying influences” last season and arguably made the most astute signings out of any Premiership manager over the summer. The likes of Haskell, Jones, Palmer and Massi provide not only great rugby skills, but they also offer the experience and leadership to perfectly complement the development of Wasps’ youngsters.
“That’s something which I wanted to bring in, a little bit of that experience, but I don’t want to block the development of the youngsters as well. They’ll be put in when they need to be put in.”
Young and his Wasps side appear to have struck the right balance between youth and experience, but Dai refuses to get carried away with “bold statements”.
“We want to go into the last month of the season looking in front of us rather than looking over our shoulder.”
On paper, that should not be a problem – Wasps are a much improved side to last season. The youngsters will no doubt be able to play above their tender years and, with some better luck than last year, should produce results. One thing for certain is that Young will be keeping a close eye, so don’t expect to see them resting on their laurels.
“If we start relaxing, we’re going to get a kick in the nuts very quickly,” Young finished.
By Nik Simon