The future looks bright for Wasps, yet it could have been so different for the two-time European Cup Champions.
On April 24, Wasps became the first UK sporting club to launch a retail bond on the London Stock Exchange. The seven-year bond aimed to raise between 25 and 35 million pounds worth of investment to help create “a long-term sustainable business model” according to club Chief Executive David Armstrong. It took just seven days for Wasps to reach their £35 million target and the Premiership club’s financial situation has never looked better.
However it is not so long ago that Wasps RFC, once one of Europe’s biggest clubs, was minutes from being forced out of business. Despite claiming four Premiership crowns and two Heineken Cup titles between 2002 and 2008, a mass exodus of star players, losses upward of £2 million per year and a chairman trying to sell rather than invest, left Wasps on the verge of not only relegation, but administration in 2012.
A losing bonus-point defeat on the final day of the 2011/12 season was just enough to keep Wasps in the Aviva Premiership, with many speculating that relegation on that day would have seen the then Buckinghamshire-based club fall out of existence.
After being saved by a consortium that completed the purchase of the club later that year, Wasps have hardly looked back. Former Welsh international and Director of Rugby, Dai Young, has been through all the ups and downs, but his young, fresh and exciting squad are now reaping the rewards from their early exposure to top level competition during Wasps’ darker days. The club have, for a second successive year, bagged a place in Europe’s elite competition and this season came agonisingly close to earning a final-day shot at top four qualification, had it not been for Leicester’s win on Saturday.
For years, Wasps boasted some of England’s biggest stars at the heart of their squad – Lawrence Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey, Joe Worsley and Phil Vickery to name a few. Yet in 2012 the story wasn’t nearly as encouraging: Rob Webber, who played just 19 minutes in the entire tournament, was Wasps only English Six Nations representative. To 2015, and in contrast, Wasps now line up with many of England’s ‘next generation’.
Joe Launchbury is one for sure: he made his return to action at the weekend after missing much of the 2014/15 campaign through injury, but already has 22 caps for the national side and is expected to be a regular in England squads for the foreseeable future – including that of this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Christian Wade can probably count himself extremely unlucky to not already be a part of the England set-up following another spectacular season for Wasps. With England still crying out for a prolific winger, many consider the 23-year old, who already has twelve tries to his name this year, the perfect man to take Lancaster’s side to the next level. England have seemingly operated a trial and error strategy when selecting their wingers and after limited success with Chris Ashton, Marland Yarde and Jonny May, Wade’s inevitable call-up must only be around the corner.
Joe Simpson: the Wasps #9 who only last week was named Aviva Premiership Player of the Month for April has been knocking on the England door for the past five years. Like on the wing, England are yet to conclusively hone in on a first choice scrum-half and there is little to suggest what more Simpson could do to earn a call-up. For now though, Lancaster seems to prefer Care, Youngs and Wigglesworth so if it’s not immediate, it surely can’t be long for Joe.
For Elliot Daly, he faces the sternest of tests to break into Stuart Lancaster’s side. Despite continued performances of the highest quality for Wasps and the Saxons, his outside centre spot hasn’t looked so secure in the hands of Jonathan Joseph since Mike Tindall donned the white of England in the years prior to 2011. At just 22 though, Daly is certainly an exciting prospect for the future of English rugby and his impressive versatility means he’s equally capable of gaining his international colours anywhere across the backline.
With Premiership and European titles the target for this fresh-looking Wasps side, Dai Young has already begun to make additions ahead of next season with the signings of Ireland international Jimmy Gopperth, young Gloucester scrum-half Dan Robson and New Zealand-born winger Frank Halai all confirmed. Rumours of more signings, including a second “marquee” player, are still reportedly in the pipeline.
Off of the field and things arguably look even rosier. Following eighteen years of ground renting in first West-London and then High Wycombe, Wasps completed the purchase of Coventry’s Ricoh Arena in November 2014 and despite initial unrest from settled London-based supporters, match attendances have reached new highs.
Saturday’s 26-21 defeat to Leicester Tigers saw a sell-out crowd of over 32,000 in attendance, smashing the previous record for a home Premiership game. Since the move, Wasps have averaged over 19,000 gate receipts at home games – higher than any other Aviva Premiership club. So it is perhaps not surprising that following last week’s bond issue, club Chief Executive David Armstrong stated: “We were previously the second-lowest revenue-generating club in Premiership rugby. We are now the second highest in Europe’
“We are a club with ambitions to be at the top level both domestically and in Europe every season” he added.
With Wasps expected to become the richest in club rugby by the end of 2015, there is understandably huge cause for optimism looking to the future. Having already pulled up trees on their way to a surprise quarter-final appearance in this season’s European Champions Cup, along with their impressive year in the Aviva Premiership, Wasps have clearly set a perfect foundation from which to dominate club rugby in the Northern Hemisphere for years to come. Can they do it? – Well only time will tell.