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Is Dai Young the right man to lead Wasps?

Dai Young

Photo: Richard Lane/Richard Lane Photography. Wasps Pre Season Training. 04/08//2015. Wasps’ Dai Young, Director of Rugby.

So here’s the thing.

Our Director of Rugby David “Dai” Young recently admitted to the Coventry Telegraph that he was in a “dark, lonely place”. I’d like to take a moment to express exactly how I feel about Dai Young at this moment.

I am truly, and deeply proud to have him at the helm of the club I love.

Obviously there is more to it than that, and I will explain, but I don’t want there to be any doubt in your mind as you start to read this.

We Owe Him

I’ve spoken about this many times, and so have many other people.  But during the club’s darkest days, when we were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and we didn’t know how it was going to play out Dai stuck by the club.

He’d come on board not knowing how bad the situation was, and no-one would have blamed him for walking away but he didn’t. He dug deep, he paid for supplies out of his own pocket and he helped save Wasps from going under.  Clearly he didn’t do this by himself, but I honestly believe that we would not be here today if it was not for Dai.

He Genuinely Cares

He has a developed a reputation for hiding his emotions.  Whatever is going on on the field it is a rare day when he cracks a smile, or indeed shows any visible emotion. But I think it is safe to say that that is not the man he is.  It is simply the persona he takes on when sitting in the public eye as the leader of the club.

He has made it clear on many occasions that it is not about him.  That he is not the story.  And his approach effectively gives the press nothing to latch on to.  There are DORs who take vastly different approaches, and that is entirely their right.  But the recent rumours and negative press about the club show very clearly that he is doing the right thing.

But, and this is the bit that actually matters.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Just go read the article about how he felt watching Dan Robson not be brought off the bench in the England Ireland game last week.

He Has Real Vision

For years now Wasps have been playing a different game from everyone else.  Some have laid this at the door of Danny Cipriani, but anyone with eyes to see knows that this is not the case.

Whether it was us struggling at Adams Park with Stephen Jones at the helm, the stunning win against Toulon led by Ruaridh Jackson not long after moving into the Ricoh, or the glory days of 2017 when we finished 1st in the league the way the club has attempted to play has been the same.

How on earth a former world class prop can take a team and develop such a free flowing, running game is beyond me, but it is clear that that is his goal and  when it works well Wasps are the envy of every team in the world.

He Has Integrity

When the salary cap debacle exploded a few years ago there was one team that lead the way in being honest, accountable, and outraged at the idea that other clubs may have been cheating the cap. He was the man who stood up and made it clear that Wasps deeply opposed the alleged financial transgressions, and that we had no part in them.  Once he’d stuck his head above the parapet other DORs followed his lead.  But it was Dai who had the integrity to make his feelings clear.

Unlike many coaches in the public eye when Dai says something, you know he isn’t simply spinning a line to get the press off his back, or to create media interest for the sake of it.

It isn’t just with regards to the big rules, and the alleged cheating where his integrity shows.  He also refuses to pass the buck, even when he would be perfectly entitled to.  He recently said:

“It’s my job to support them, but it’s a pretty lonely place for me.”

His metaphorical shoulders are clearly as broad as his actual shoulders.

We’ve Got Your Back Dai

It is not exaggeration to say that Wasps have the names of some genuine rugby legends among their DORs  Melville, Gatland, McGeechan to name but a few.  And I for one would not swap Dai Young for any of them.

If you read this Dai, then please remember that despite the verbose tirades of a few outliers, pretty much all the fans of Wasps are proud you are our leader. You’re doing a great job, and we’ve got your back!

What do you think?  Are you on Dai’s team?  Come and tell us in our forums.

Wasps’ Training Facility

There has been a lot of talk in the rugby press recently about the state of Wasps training facility.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the things that have been said in an objective way and see if there is any truth to the rumours.

Wasps' Training Facility

Wasps’ Training Facility – The Facts

Let’s start by looking at the facts.

When Wasps moved to Coventry, there was no ready-made training facility to move into. Plans were mooted to create a brand new, state of the art facility that would be the envy of the rugby world.  But until that could happen something else would have to fill the gap.

Initially the squad continued to train in the aging facility in Acton, still home to the amateur Wasps FC.  It was simply too far away from the club’s new home to fulfil its purpose for very long, but a permanent home had proved harder to find than anyone hoped.  A decision was made to create a temporary training facility in partnership with a local club and the training centre moved to Broadstreet.

Plans were drawn up and approved for a facility at the Alan Higgs centre, however they fell through.  Recently an announcement was made that a partnership with Old Leamingtonians Rugby Club to build the new centre on their ground.

Until that happens Wasps will continue to use the temporary facilities at Broadstreet.

So that’s the facts.  Let’s look at the rumours.

Wasps Training Facility – The Rumours

These fall into two categories.  Those related to a former player, and those related to a current player.

James Haskell, who played for Wasps for many years has gone on record complaining about the terrible facilities, describing them as not suitable for a top-flight club.  Haskell also made his feelings public about there being something wrong with the culture of the club before he left.

People have said there is no smoke without fire, but I think it is no coincidence that culture of the club, and the state of the facilities were of no interest to him until after his contract was not renewed. Whatever you feel about that it does seem that there is likely to be an element of sour grapes in his comments.

The comments of Charlie Matthews recently would back that up. He was quoted in the Coventry Telegraph as saying “I came from Quins hearing these rumours about training in a shed. I came here and it’s awesome”.

So what about Daly.

Until an official announcement is made it is hard to work out what of the noise about Elliot Daly is actually factual and what is not.  But the consensus appears to be that he is invoking a get-out clause in his contract relating to the training facilities in order to sign with Saracens.

Whether this is true or not it is pretty clear that the facilities were good enough to get him to the level where he became a nailed-on starter for England and also the British and Irish Lions.  The same facilities where Willie le Roux went from a forgotten former international to a genuinely world class international in demand everywhere around the world.  To say nothing of the Willis brothers, Jake Cooper-Wooley, and Will Stuart.  I could even mention a former Fly half here, but I won’t.

If Elliot wants to leave then I wish him all the luck in the world.  Rugby is a short and potentially dangerous career – just ask Sam Jones – but if he is leaving, it is not for lack of somewhere to train.

Are Training Facilities that important?

I’d like to finish by talking about wrestling. I was never much of a rugby player, I was enthusiastic, but not gifted.  I am however a pretty good wrestler.  Or at least I was until I ruined my knee.  Not the leaping off the ropes WWE type wrestler, but the grinding someone’s face into the side of a cage type of wrestler.

In wrestling in the UK there is a place that has become the stuff of legends.  A gym known as Riley’s.

It was a big shed on the outskirts of Wigan, and it was famed for its lack of facilities.  There was a big mat on the floor, and some nails hammered into the wooden walls to hang your clothes on. Yet despite not having any weights, and cardio equipment, or even a working shower, it produced some of the greatest wrestlers that ever lived.  Several world champions came out of there, and some of them went on to coach some of the greatest names in combat sports today. People like Kazushi Sakuraba, Josh Barnett, Eric Paulson, and many many more (including yours truly) can trace their pedigree back to Riley’s Gym.

It may be that modern athletes feel they need climate control. Maybe they need constant metabolic monitoring. Maybe they need hot and cold running supplements on tap 24 hours a day.

Or maybe they are just an added bonus.

I’d like to suggest that the negative press about the training centre at Wasps is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the fact that players are moving for more money and don’t want to admit it. Or in Haskell’s case they are simply after the publicity he needs now his career is done.

What do you think?  Come join in the discussion on our forums.

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How the salary cap will affect us, and everyone else

Wasps’ success over the last few years was completely predictable, and sadly, so are the difficulties they are facing now. They are both intrinsically related to the salary cap.

When Derek Richardson came on board with the financial support he was willing to bring it was immediately clear that we could dramatically improve the quality of our squad over a few years.  As contracts expired, and players retired they were replaced with better, more expansive players.

A Sprinkling of Stardust

We brought in the likes of Charles Piutau, George Smith, Willie le Roux, and Kurtley Beale.  They dragged the rest of the squad kicking and screaming up the table and a lot of the existing squad put their hands up and showed that they too were of a similar class.  Others didn’t, and moved on.

We moved from scrapping to avoid relegation to extra time in the premiership final in the space of a few years.  The same few years where we moved from filling the teamsheets with the players we could get for the money we had, to filling the team with the best players money could buy.

It’s no surprise that hitting the limits of the salary cap from being one of the poorest teams in the league had such a big success.  But the downside of that was that all of our players were suddenly part of a majorly successful team.  They not only deserved more money, but were massively more visible.

Suddenly earning £500k a year at Wasps wasn’t unthinkable.  It was perfectly possible.

However the cap means that we have no chance of retaining all the players that brought us that success.

That means we are going to lose players we’d rather keep.  And disappointingly other teams.  Those teams we see as our direct rivals are going to gain those same players.

The Direct Effect of our Success

In practice what this means is that the level of talent we brought in to the premiership and developed from our own academy is going to disperse across the rest of the teams.  And it isn’t just us this is going to happen to.

In fact you could argue that this is exactly the point of the cap.  It doesn’t just exist to stop one or two teams buying all the stars.  We know that doesn’t work – look at what happened to London Welsh – It is designed to force talent to disperse. It won’t just make the league more competitive by reducing the ability of the best teams, but by increasing the abilities of the worst (currently) teams.

This is why Nick Eastwood talked about Dai planning for the next two years.  It’s also why McCall was calling for the abolition of the cap a year or two ago.  He could see this coming and it’s going to affect Sarries and Exeter as much as it does us at Wasps.

I think there will be another unforeseen effect of the cap though.

An Unforseen Effect of the Salary Cap

The growing sponsorship money, and the growing popularity of rugby with the public at large has caused an exponential rise in wages. Five years ago the idea of a player earning £700k a year was laughable.  Now there are several who are looking at that sort of money.  And £500k is well within reach for a multi capped international.

That is exactly what is forcing teams to let players go that they’d rather keep. But it is also forcing them to look to develop their own players.  Whether they are coming through their academy, being brought up from Championship teams, or more worryingly tempted from poorer countries by the big money on offer.  The Pacific islands are prime territory for the Southern Hemisphere nations to recruit from.  But less so for the Northern teams.  That will change.

The cap will even out talent across the premiership.  But it will also damage the nations who in rugby terms are still “developing”. More and more talented youngsters will be tempted away to try for the massive salaries that exist.  But in a somewhat ironic twist those salaries may well become rarer and rarer.

If we look at a senior squad size of 40, the current salary cap of £7M means that if we exclude two players it leaves £184,000 per person. Obviously there are allowances for academy players, and other creative ways to adjust the cap, but for every one player at £500k that leaves two other players with nothing at all.  Or every player losing several thousand.

The Possible End Result

One of two things will happen.

Either the cap will go. The teams with money to spend will eventually refuse to carry on bringing in or developing players they are not able to keep.

Or the wages of players will be driven down.

My personal opinion is that the cap will eventually become irrelevant.  There are those who argue it already is.  The regulations are vague enough that any good lawyer can argue around them.  As we found out recently.  And the idea of ring fencing the premiership will largely replace the functions of the cap.  If the teams at the bottom end of the league can’t be relegated and suffer the massive financial penalties associated with that, then what does it matter if some teams spend more than others?

However before all the dust settles and we actually find out how it will play out in the long term we will have to deal with the mess it causes.

And that’s going to hurt Wasps more than most.

What do you think?  Discuss it on our forums here.

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The times they are a’changing

Once a wasp

An End of Season Review

My plan was to start this article with something pithy about how the pain of not making it to the finals of the Premiership Play Offs had faded and it was now I could start to be a bit more objective about the season.  But the more I thought on it, the more I realised there wasn’t really any pain at all.  I’d never actually expected us to make it to the finals, never mind win them.

This entire season has felt a little bit of a let down after coming so close the year before.  It’s been a season of unfulfilled promise, a season of missed potential, and a season, ultimately, of resigned disappointment.

I’ve spent a while thinking about it, and it occurred to me that there was a perfect metaphor for our performance right in front of me.

Not a Coincidence

Danny CiprianiThe way Wasps have performed for the last year has been an almost exact analogue for the career of Danny Cipriani.

Undeniable brilliance, tempered with basic failure.  Constant pushing at the boundaries of what is possible while at the same time failing to do some of the simplest of things at all.  Excitement, but ultimately disappointment.

It is no secret that Wasps rely on natural ability, that we have a whole raft of players who can turn a game around in a moment by an act of sheer magic.  Cipriani more so than anyone else.

I remember sitting in the stands at Adams Park watching him as a new player, somehow he managed to be both astonishingly good, and yet still somehow there was something not quite sitting right about him.

A New Player

When he re-signed for Wasps two years ago I was pleased that we had the chance to see such brilliance again, but I was also a little concerned that perhaps nothing would have changed.  That the young prodigy who didn’t see anything wrong with heading out to a nightclub to drop something off with a friend in the middle of the night before his first England cap was the player we were going to get.  The man who was clever enough to know how brilliant he was and always try to be leading the discussion in training to the point where other, equally brilliant players on his own team were happy to KO him in training.

I don’t think he is as arrogant as he was when he was younger.  But ultimately he is still the same person.

So that’s why I’m not sad he’s leaving.

I think Eddie Jones hit the nail on the head when he said that Danny could never be in the team if he wasn’t number 1.  He didn’t mean if he wasn’t first choice at 10, he meant that Danny does things his own way.  From the way he manages his own time, to the way he runs his own drills in training, to the way he constantly questions the decisions of his coaches  And that is never going to be the case in a tier one international team

Ultimately Optimistic

Lima SopoagaI also don’t think that it is a coincidence that our defence, which has been an issue for so long has suffered while he has been with us.  To the point where our defence coach upped and left.  The more the team has coalesced around Cipriani and what he does so well, the worse we have got at everything else.

And that is both why I never expected us to win anything in the playoffs, but more importantly it is why I am so optimistic about the next season.

Lima Sopoaga is a natural talent on the rugby field.  He is strong, powerful, fast, fearless, and has a vision to match.  He is also a team player of the highest level.  He might not have moments of utter magic like Cipriani, but his ability to act as the playmaker in a team that succeeds at everything is far and away above Danny’s.

I genuinely wish Danny all the best for the future, I hope he does well at Gloucester, and I hope he gets his chance to show what he can do on the stage of international rugby.  But I doubt he will ever be anything more than a good fringe player who never fulfilled his potential.

Wasps on the other hand have shown they have what it takes to succeed.  They have a core of players who want to play for each other, and trust each other to do the right thing.  They have individuals with the ability to change the game in a moment – Wade, Le Roux, Daly, Willis, Launchbury, Young, and more besides.  And in Sopoaga they have an opportunity to build a stable platform on which to shine.  We’ve made it to the playoffs three years in a row, we’ve made it to the final in one of those, and yet we haven’t quite had what it takes to reach the very top.

I honestly believe that will be different next season.

A Cinderella Story

Derek Richardson

Derek Richardson

I’m hurting right now, and I suspect I’m not the only one.

I’d be willing to bet that the players are hurting a good deal more than me, and the coaches too. I actually can’t think of much worse ways to lose a game as important as that one than by a penalty in the dying moments of extra time.

In some ways I’d rather we put up a valiant fight but were outclassed. But to have played as well as we did, for the game to be as close as it was, and to have lead for a large part of it only to have it snatched away by what feels like a toss of a coin really burns.

That doesn’t mean I begrudge Exeter their win. They have played really well all season, and there has literally been almost nothing between us all season. We finished on the same points in first and second, and only tries scored put us in first. One team had to win, and as you will no doubt have read many times in the rugby press already Exeter’s story is a rags to riches fairytale that makes the perfect story. It is a tale of the plucky underdogs winning the biggest prize of all thanks to good teamwork and brilliant coaching.

But that fails to take account of the fact that Wasps’ story is similar. We weren’t the plucky winner of the Championship promoted to the big league but fully expected to go straight back down that somehow managed to survive, rebuild, strengthen, and eventually beat the best in the world. But Wasps are a team that had no right to survive.

We were saved from relegation by one tackle. One man’s premature celebration, coupled with another man’s desparate attempt to help his team stay up – and a man who was famed for never really tackling at that – kept Wasps in the Premiership when they should really have gone down.

And if Wasps had been relegated they likely wouldn’t have survived.

The team was bankrupt. David “Dai” Young was forced to buy supplies from his own pocket, and somehow not only managed to keep the platers motivated, but also managed to persuade new players to sign for the club. It’s not a secret that I credit him with saving the club from its darkest hours, but there is another man who needs to be mentioned.

Wasps were a team on the edge, unwanted tenants of a football club, playing in a small stadium at the end of an industrial estate. A team fielding a mixture of untested academy prospects alongside retired players who had agreed to put on the kit to sit on the bench so we could field a full team. A team with no prospects, no long term owner, and no way to survive. The only perceivable future was a gradual sink through the leagues until finally vanishing altogether.

And then the unthinkable happened.

The club was bought, lock stock and barrel by a successful businessman. But not just any old businessman, a man who had not only made himself an awful lot of money, but a man who was a genuine rugby fan. A man who recognised the heritage, the potential, and the possibilities in the team.

Derek Richardson came on board when we needed a saviour most, and whilst it seems a little hyperbolic to use that word it is the most appropriate one I can come up with.

Within no time at all Wasps had some security. We weren’t relegation prospects any more, and Dai could keep his money and not have to buy supplies for the team. Retired players could watch the team from the stands instead of the bench, and new players started to come in.

Then, seemingly out of the blue Derek’s Wasps bought an immense arena two hours up the road and the team moved away from Adams Park.

I won’t lie, I thought it was a mistake. I had grown to love Adams Park, and the Ricoh was too far away for me to get to regularly, but I’m a big enough man to admit I was wrong.

I thought it was a cynical move to make some fast money and that the club would end up a poor second to the financial interests of an already rich man.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

No-one who saw Derek celebrating Daly’s try yesterday could believe that he doesn’t really care. He is a man with a real passion for rugby, and he actually cares about the club, the players, and the supporters. Not long ago my youngest son went into remission after a year’s treatment for a rare form of Cancer. I’d never met Derek, or even had any reason to speak to him, but he rang me at home to offer his congratulations and to tell me to let him know if I brought my son to the Ricoh so he could make sure we got to meet the players and made it as special a day as possible.

So whilst Exeter’s Cinderella story is complete. They’ve gone from plucky losers to ultimate winners. Ours is even more complete too. Winning the Premiership would have been the icing on the cake, but the fact is that we were seconds away from vanishing, and now we are topping the league, playing in the biggest stadium in the Premiership with record crowds, we are playing exciting, entertaining rugby, and we are genuinely looking to the future without apprehension.

And that is down to one man.

Thanks Derek, we owe you one.

An open letter to Saracens’ Fans

Dear Saracens fans

Firstly congratulations on your stunning victory last weekend. It was great to see not only an English team win the European Champions cup, but also to see a team that has almost become a force of nature in full flow.

You thoroughly deserved the win, and the fact that it was a double makes it even more impressive.

And that leads me to the point of this missive.

Enjoy it. You are clearly one of the best teams in the world right now, you are accumulating silverware at a quite terrifying rate and it is well deserved. Your players are great, and they play together as a team so well that they all look even better than they would anywhere else. Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t deserve the plaudits you are getting. You really do.

But be aware that it is unlikely to last forever. Ten years ago we were where you are now. Celebrating yet more silverware, and feeling that it was ours by right.

In some ways it was, but in the same way the rapid slide to the bottom of the table, to be saved from relegation by a tackle from a man reknowned for never tacking was ours by right. That is just the way rugby is.

Some people, fans of other teams, learned to hate us back then when we were at the top. For some reason that seems to be the way of things. I’m guessing you have noticed that. People run your team down for being successful, and you down for supporting them. For some folk that will never change. Some people still hate Wasps and for no reason other than we beat them 10 years ago.

You’re also bearing the brunt of the salary cap debacle. Whatever you think of that, whether you believe your team was guilty or not it isn’t going to go away. It just becomes part of who you are. Much like Quins and “Bloodgate” and us with our uncontested scrums. It isn’t fun, but it is part of the team identity. But that is what being a rugby fan is all about, taking the rough with the smooth, experiencing the heartache of the lows, and the joy of the highs, as well as the guilt of knowing that perhaps your team weren’t as innocent as you’d want them to be.

So enjoy it, try to ignore the odd glitch along the way. You had the Valentine’s Day massacre last year (still one of my favourite all time games), but find any long term Wasps’ fan and watch their face when you say “Pertemps Bees” and you’ll know that you’re not alone in having the odd unexpected failure when you are otherwise on the top of the world.

I have no idea whether you will stay at the top of years, or whether this is the beginning of the end for you, but either way I hope that we’ll see you in the finals at Twickenham and that we spoil your party, just like we did for Leicester all those years ago.

Domestic rugby is in a great place right now, and that is due, at least in part, to you. We wouldn’t have been able to have the resurgence we have had if it wasn’t for you.

So thank you.

Well done for winning yet another cup, and hopefully see you in a few weeks.

Vespula Vulgaris