Well nobody quite saw London Wasps coming, did they? Another home win over Bath yesterday saw the former giants of English rugby move up to fourth spot in the Aviva Premiership and a play-off spot. They will do well to stay there, with the likes of Northampton and Gloucester breathing down their necks, but already their achievement has been astonishing when taken into context.
So what is the context? Last season they lost their final home game to Newcastle but escaped relegation, just, as Newcastle went down. It was at the same time that the owners were trying to sell the club as potential bankruptcy loomed. The players did not know which league they would be plying their trade this season, nor indeed for which club if any.
Fast forward eight months. Dai Young did well in the transfer market, persuading old Wasps James Haskell and Tom Palmer to return, while the inexperienced bucks of last season have blossomed into respected professional rugby players.
Lock Joe Launchbury heads this field, grabbing the chance to play test rugby with so much gusto that already the former supermarket shelf stacker is a certain starter for the RBS Six Nations. Number eight Billy Vunipola is not far behind, either, while centre Elliot Daly is a potential England player of the not too distant future. Throw in the Premierships’ two most prolific, try-scoring wingers – Tom Varndell and Christian Wade – and an Adams Park venue which has become increasingly difficult to win at, and you can begin to see why Wasps have come good again.
I use the word “again” because, of course, Wasps were the best team in England and, alongside Leicester, the best English team in the professional era. This is a team that won the Premiership four times and the Heineken Cup twice, the last in 2007, as well as a string of domestic and lesser European trophies. This was the team that sported Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey, Matt Dawson, Phil Vickery, Paul Sackey, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley, Fraser Waters and many more who built Wasps into the most formidable club in Northern Hemisphere rugby, yet they all went within a few years of each other, leaving Wasps to pick up the pieces burdened by legend and expectation.
Imagine Leicester flirting with relegation, or failing to make even finals on a regular basis? This is what happened to their arch rivals. I, for one, could not see a recovery to this extent. I predicted a final placing of around 7th or 8th for Wasps in May at the start of the season, which at least was a big improvement on their near drop last year. The job is far from complete, either. Wasps are a little short of Quins, Sarries and the Tigers at the moment, which is why they are in fourth place, and not higher. Off the field the financial concerns have not been completely erased either.
Yet all of English rugby will be pleased to see the sleeping giant beginning to wake from its slumbers. Much credit must be given to DOR Dai Young for withstanding immense pressure last season to guide his Wasps to today’s lofty heights. His and his team’s revival is one of the best things to happen in English rugby and, as always with Wasps, the England team are and will continue to benefit from the club’s oval ball comeback. Could 2013 be the year of the Wasp? Stranger things have happened.