A little over three years ago, London Wasps were on the brink of administration, running out of options as they were losing £3 million a year at their London home, Adams Park.
Fast forwards to today, and not only have the club employed one of the best marketing strategies seen in the game, with the highest turnover of any club in Europe, including a 229% rise in full year revenues in 2015 according to the Financial Times, but they are on the back of a five game winning streak – their first since the 2012-2013 season. In Europe, they topped their pool at the Champions Cup, beating Leinster home and away and former Champions Toulon at home in the process. They will face Exeter at the Ricoh on the 9th April in their bid to reach the final four. Whilst, domestically, they sit third in the Premiership table, with eight wins to their name – four of which have come in the last month alone.
Last weekend, they smashed Saracens in a record breaking performance which saw them run in eight tries against a team that had only conceded ten all season. And yesterday, three weeks after beating Northampton at home, they beat rivals Bath at the Rec for the third time this season.
So who’s shining for the side that were embroiled in a relegation battle only four years ago?
England hopeful Daly is asking questions of Eddie Jones as he continuously puts in strong performance after performance. With sixteen appearances, four tries, and fifty points to his name this season, including a drop goal against Bath in December, Daly is as useful with the boot as he is with his hands. Famed for his long range kicking, he was selected for the England Squad but released before the Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland, but is firmly on the radar, especially with competition Jonathan Joseph in questionable form. Jones has made it clear that he will not be handing out caps easily, but with over one hundred performances already for Wasps, the 23 year old will surely have his chance to shine for country too in the future.
“Frank the Tank” scored a brace in this weekend’s fixture to bring him to a total of nine tries in fifteen appearances for the club. The Tongan born wing joined Wasps this season from Super Rugby side the Blues, and has hailed Jonah Lomu comparisons for his towering physique and impressive play. Although his defensive work needed improvement, he has worked closely with coach Brad Davies, and he is beginning to look unstoppable with ball in hand, whilst Wasps’ defensive performance on Saturday was impressive. Combined with the skills of fellow Tongan full back Charles Piutau, who is at Wasps on a short term contract, he has certainly helped to lift Wasps’ counter-attacking game since he joined the club and the pair are a valuable addition.
Stand-in captain George Smith is proving that Wasps aren’t missing England’s James Haskell too much. With a man of the match winning performance this weekend against Bath to add to his rapidly growing collection, the Australian back rower brings class and experience to the club, with 111 international caps to his name to add to his 17 Wasps appearances. Head hunted by Jones to coach the England back row, Smith has been a useful signing for Wasps and has certainly neutralised the loss of the England contingent, allowing the club to gain ground over their rivals who have lost higher numbers to international duty. And, he’s quickly become a genuine club favourite – using his man of the match interview yesterday to send best wishes to the victim’s of Fiji’s cyclone proves just why.
Although the New Zealand born fly half started his time at Wasps with a couple of average displays and a three match ban for a clash with Matt Tait, he is quickly becoming an integral part of their match winning team. He landed a successful 25 metre penalty to prevent Bath’s fightback on Saturday, whilst the Kiwi scored twenty three points in last weekend’s destruction of Saracens, including a try for himself. Last weekend marked the second time he’d passed the twenty point mark in one game, putting 23 points past Bath back in November. In fifteen appearances, he now has a total of 167 points, and three tries to his name. With Danny Cipriani set to rejoin the club for the next season – having ended conversations with Harlequins after their Director of Rugby, Conor O’Shea, resigned earlier in the year – Gopperth will have to fight for his starting spot, but the number 10 is currently drawing on every ounce of his European experience to impress week in, week out.
Another new player on fine form in Coventry is Scrum Half Dan Robson, who joined the club from Gloucester at the start of the season. The 23 year old usually faces challenge from Joe Simpson for the number 9 jersey, but has shined in his last couple of starts with three tries in four appearances. His impressive try scoring ability, coupled with his execution of a fantastic piece of defensive work which stopped Bath full back Matt Banahan from scoring during Saturday’s matchup, shows he has fully taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him since Simpson was sidelined in January with an ankle injury. Although Simpson himself was unlucky to miss out on Eddie Jones’ England Elite Player Squad, the younger Robson also has a claim to the shirt, with former England Scrum Half Andy Gomarsall labelling him a “cracking player”.
With Wasps on fine form in recent weeks, they can look forwards to the opportunities that now present themselves for the rest of the season. Head Coach Dai Young is keen to talk down the excitement of a potential Premiership semi final, but hope is beginning to brew in Coventry. The next three weekends will see them play host to Harlequins and Leicester Tigers – the two teams directly chasing them for a top four spot in the English Premiership, whilst they’ll also travel to Kingsholm to take on Gloucester. Taking away the points could be essential to the remained of their season, although they have one of the easiest run ins on paper in their final six Premiership Fixtures, with Sale, Worcester, Newcastle and Irish to face as the year draws to a close. They must translate this theory into practice, but a top four spot is a distinct possibility for the club, which would be the first time since the 2007-2008 season. And, with a home quarter final against Exeter to come, their European dream is far from over.
Settled in their new Coventry home, Wasps certainly have their sting back.