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Wasps exceeding all expectations
WASPS’ Lazarus-like renaissance is the story of the domestic English rugby season.
You only have to look at where they are now and compare it to where they were eight months ago.
Last May they were one single, solitary point away from probable extinction.
The money had dried up and relegation out of the Premiership would have almost certainly killed the club off.
Their players would have scattered to the wind and they would have crashed into the Championship with few assets apart from a fading brand name.
Finding a new buyer would have been next to impossible and liquidation was the most likely end.
But they stayed up, they were a thrown a short-term lifeline by a new consortium and, on the field at least, they have grabbed it with both hands.
Now, with a third of the new season remaining, they are one the brink of something quite remarkable.
Saturday’s win at English champions Harlequins, their first in six years, kept them in the play-offs and if they follow up by putting space between themselves and fifth-placed Gloucester on Sunday then the scales will tip their way again and they will go from possible semi-finalists to probables.
Throw in the prospect of a home quarter-final against Leinster in the Amlin Challenge Cup and the transformation has been staggering.
Director of rugby Dai Young said: “Last season was just about survival but this year is about making some big strides forward.
“We started gaining a little bit of belief and momentum from some of our home performances but we needed to back that up with some big wins away from home and you don’t get tougher or harder places to come than here.
“Hopefully it will give us some belief.”
But as telling as the result was the performance.
Wasps won’t claim to be better than Harlequins, they are two teams that play the same brand of rugby at slightly different levels.
Harlequins are further forward in their development but Wasps proved on Saturday night that the unity within their dressing room is at least as good as any other team in the league.
That is what won them the game at The Stoop, and while Young doesn’t generally spend his press conferences cheerleading he was happy to tip his hat to the character of his players at the weekend.
He said: “We showed some good stuff in attack, but the really pleasing thing was the spirit we showed in defence to hold them out.
“We were under pressure for long periods, but we showed real character.
“It was nowhere near perfect. There were still lots of things that could have lost us the game and there are still lots of things that we have to keep working on.
“We still made mistakes but the hunger, desire and work-rate were outstanding.
“It looked like Holby City in the dressing room at half time. A lot of boys had to be patched up and there were a lot of bumps and bruises.
“But there was a lot of hard work and a lot of commitment.”
With eight Premiership matches to play, Wasps are now two points clear of fifth and five clear of sixth.
But their run-in means they can still miss out on the play-offs just as easily as not.
They must play first, third, fifth and sixth and will probably need to win two of those matches plus three more besides to make sure of a top four finish.