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.