One of professional rugby’s greatest success stories almost disappeared completely after financial near-collapse, but with Derek Richardson as owner the Coventry-based club has gone from strength to strength.
The six-time league winners and double Heineken Cup champions will be looking to get their hands on their first silverware since 2008 this season and with an increasingly-powerful squad, it might just be the year that they get back to winning ways.
Having moved away from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire and into their own stadium in the form of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, Wasps now have much stronger foundations off the pitch to ensure they succeed on it, and the signings made over the summer suggest they might just do it.
Yes, they’ve lost the imperious George Smith who was rightly named RPA’s Players’ Player of the Year. One of Wasps’ standout performers in Charles Piutau has also moved on to Ulster and yes, they’ve said goodbye to a number of important squad players in Ruaridh Jackson, Bradley Davies, Ben Jacobs, Andrea Masi and Lorenzo Cittadini to name but a few.
You cannot underestimate the impact some of these players had, as Wasps forwards and skills coach Andy Titterrell explained to me when I spoke to him a few weeks back:
“When George Smith came in, there would probably be no one better around to learn off of in terms of openside play. Thomas Youngs was exposed to one of the world’s best sevens; it was absolutely brilliant. The same too of Charles Piutau and Robbie Miller. Those two guys at Wasps were very humble and they were forever looking to improve not only themselves but also those that are around them.”
However, some of the players Wasps have brought in will not only plug the gaps but enhance the team as a whole.
Prodigal son Danny Cipriani returns for a second stint at the club where he first made his name in the sport and where he enjoyed such success at such an early age. England fly-half Cipriani will be hoping that being a part of an improving Wasps outfit will provide him with the platform he needs to showcase his skills and convince Eddie Jones that he deserves a spot in England’s squad. Although Cipriani has his critics, you have to admire his determination to find a way back into the England side and ignore the significant cash offers that will no doubt have been flooding in from France.
Watching the likes of Cipriani combine with Dan Robson or Joe Simpson will be a joy to watch but, more importantly, Wasps fans will be eagerly awaiting the return of new signing Kurtley Beale, who was so sadly injured just 24 hours after signing with the club. His serious knee injury will hopefully have recovered in time for him to play a part for the majority of the new season. Add in the experience of 43-times capped Scotland centre Nick de Luca and Wasps’ losses don’t look so severe any more.
In fact, consider the talent Wasps now have at their disposal in their back division and you start to think that once again Wasps have the firepower to effectively deliver Dai Young’s ambitious brand of rugby.
Additionally, up front Wasps have made some excellent transfers in former Chiefs and London Irish lock Matt Symons, a man who could so easily make the step up to international level for England within the next few years, as well as Leinster and Ireland’s Marty Moore and promising England hooker Tommy Taylor from Sale.
To be robbed of James Haskell for such a prolonged period now after he is in the form of his career will be a challenge for Wasps, but they have the back row resources to cope without him for most of the season.
Moreover, as Andy Titterrell explained previously, the club is now in an excellent position to thrive:
“I think the objectives for this season are to try and be consistent enough to be in that top six, to push for top four and once you’re in or around that group it’s everything to play for. I think what with where we finished last year, our objective was top six at that point and ultimately we finished third. With the signings that Derek Richardson and Dai Young have made, they’ve given us as a team an opportunity to really to push on from where we were last year and to try and be consistently in that top group of performers.”
Wasps have every chance to make it into the top four once again this year and push on for their first English domestic trophy since 2008. Given the squad, the coaches and the set-up they now have, it might just be the Year of the Wasp next season.
Marty Moore from Leinster
Tommy Taylor from Sale Sharks
Danny Cipriani from Sale Sharks
Tom Cruse from London Irish
Guy Armitage from London Welsh
Craig Hampson from Bristol Rugby
Tom Woolstencroft from Bath Rugby
Marcus Garratt from Cornish Pirates
Kurtley Beale from NSW Waratahs
Matt Symons from London Irish
Nick de Luca from Biarritz Olympique
Charles Piutau to Ulster
Alex Lozowski to Saracens
George Smith to Suntory Sungoliath
Jamie Stevenson to London Scottish
Ed Shervington retired
Ruaridh Jackson to Harlequins
Bradley Davies to Ospreys
James Downey retired
Ben Jacobs retired
Carlo Festuccia to Zebre
Andrea Masi retired
Lorenzo Cittadini to Bayonne
Prediction: Play-offs at the very least
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena