For a player who’s 38, you’d think he would know better. As well as spending yesterday having to publicly acknowledge that Shaun Edwards was leaving the club after a decade, Wasps were forced to release a statement declaring that despite signing a “secret” contract extension back in August, Simon Shaw had declared that he wanted to leave the club on returning from New Zealand to play overseas.
The confusion over where Shaw would end up after New Zealand was a concern very much left on the back-burner whilst England were away, only really picked up on by people either saying that Shaw was unattached or still part of the Wasps setup. People either knew more than they were meant to let on, or just simply assumed that after 339 appearances and at the age of 38, where else was Shaw going to go when he got back?
Instead, Shaw received offers from London Irish, Harlequins and Toulon upon returning to England, and has unsurprisingly opted for the latter, despite have already signed a contract extension to stay at Wasps. Picking whether to stay training and playing in the London suburbs, or to head down to the Côte D’Azur for some time in the sun with good food and if we’re honest, playing with a better squad than at Wasps, is by far the more attractive option. Even people at London Wasps would not begrudge their loyal servant enjoying one last rugby swansong after having achieved so much in the black and yellow.
But we do not live in a sporting world based on compassion. A contract is a contract, and Wasps are well within their right if Shaw did put pen to paper back in August, to block any move away from the club where he has played since 1997. In a sense, it is almost a test of rugby’s level of professionalism. If a football player was to return from a World Cup to the Premier League and then opted to move to another club despite having signed a deal with his previous owners, the story would irritatingly dominate the back pages and Sky Sports News for weeks. Wasps either hold firm and risk keeping an unhappy player, á la Carlos Tevez, or back down.
Realistically, they may not even have a choice. The financial difficulties at the club are no secret, given that the club was put up sale by owner Steve Hayes a matter of weeks ago and that one of the reasons for not retaining Shaun Edwards at the club was due to the expense of his contract when Wasps already employ top coaches in Dai Young and Paul Turner. If Wasps were to enter into a bidding war with Toulon, there would be only one winner, but it technically shouldn’t come to that as Shaw is their player based on the “secret” extension.
In short, the whole situation doesn’t seem right. Something smells off. Why would Shaw not announce his extension before heading to New Zealand? The “personal reasons” he listed as the cause for his secrecy seem like a bizarre excuse. One thing is clear however, even if Shaw does end up playing in Toulon, where he was spotted watching from the stands last weekend for their match against Brive, he will have to provide some answers behind his change of heart, and perhaps some compensation too. All in all, it is a strange chapter in the distinguished career of one of England’s favourite rugby sons over the last 20 years.
by Ben Coles