Monday Maul
Buzz building around Wasps' new era
Tom Hamilton
November 23, 2015
© Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

COVENTRY -- In the programme teeing up Wasps' match against Toulon on Sunday is their credo: 'New era, same club'. They now have two wins from two in this season's Champions Cup, and that in arguably the toughest pool of them all, and memories of their Noughties successes hang in the Coventry air.

Last week they went to Leinster, won there, and then on a Baltic evening dismantled Toulon, winners of this competition the past three seasons. Not since 2010 have Toulon been handed as big a hammering in Europe, 32-6. It was a remarkable performance.

During the week prior to this match, Wasps coach Dai Young was asked about his own emotions at seeing a club go from having £65.16 in the bank and teetering on the brink of receivership and relegation during the 2011-12 season to housing the biggest team in Europe. Those ugly memories are now dismissed as a previous character-forming era. Come Sunday, it did not feel as if they were punching above their weight even in the pre-match speculations. Wasps are where they are now on merit.

Those days of brushing pennies together to light up their dilapidated Adams Park ground are long gone. The pictures of Lawrence Dallaglio lifting the Heineken Cup, which are dotted around the Ricoh, are now looking a little less faded, less anachronistic. The class of 2015 have breathed new life into the memories of their dominant yesteryear. The fans who braved the freezing Coventry air are now mentioning Rob Howley's last-minute tournament-winning score against Toulouse in 2004 and daring to dream of such halcyon days returning. Same club, new era.

They now boast a team of England internationals, future stars, All Blacks, a Springbok and -- in Australian legend George Smith -- one of the finest opensides the game has seen. It is a potent cocktail of constant evolution and succession.

At the Ricoh Arena, some of the game's most exciting moments play out in silence. It is the eagerness awaiting one of Elliot Daly's monster kicks at goal that cause involuntary smiles of welcome anticipation. One of his two penalty attempts just on his team's side of the halfway line floated through the Toulon posts but he is more than just a boot. He is a viable England contender in the centres, a real option to start in Eddie Jones' first Six Nations match as against Scotland come February 6, boasting the paradox of a stern boot and soft hands, with silky running lines.

That season where they narrowly escaped relegation has proved the making of this current group of players who are now knocking on the England door. Daly and Joe Simpson would have caught Jones' eye and Young is banging the drum for both to get international recognition sooner rather than later, saying Simpson is the best "No.9 in the country in unbroken play and is one of the best kickers".

Jones' predecessor as England coach, Stuart Lancaster, was in the stands and received generous applause when his face flashed up on the screen. It was he who gave Joe Launchbury his international colours, on the back of his age-defying performances in that horrid 2011-12 campaign. He is now the favourite to captain England in the Six Nations.

And then there is Nathan Hughes, the man who qualifies for England the day after they play their third Test against Australia next summer. He was sensational at No.8, carrying with brilliant brutality, and made 41 metres until injury forced him off in the 73rd minute. He will surely be on England's radar once he is eligible.

James Haskell did well, forcing a crucial turnover in the 59th minute, and so did second-row James Gaskell who put in a titanic showing, deservedly winning the man of the match award. He would have been delighted to bury the demons of 2012 when he was in the Sale side that got beaten 62-0 by Toulon.

Those England players of now and potentially the future are swirled around and blended with the experience of All Blacks Charles Piutau and Frank Halai, Scotland fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, Springbok Ashley Johnson and Australian No.7 legend George Smith. Their blend of English talent and external experience is a wonderful potion, one that even the galacticos of Toulon were overwhelmed by.

Wasps will now do their best to stay as humble as possible. They know about the oscillating emotions of professional rugby better than most.

"That's all it is, it's two wins," Young said post-match referring to their triumphs over Leinster and Toulon. "We have two [pool] games against Bath and we [will] have a better indication where we are but we are taking nothing for granted but it is a good start.

"We've not won anything but we have set the bar quite high. We now have to maintain that level of performance."

Two wins from two does not guarantee a championship but they will have enjoyed Sunday night. Now Wasps will quickly re-focus on London Irish next weekend at Twickenham in the Premiership and then the double-header against Bath in rounds three and four of this Champions Cup. But these are solid foundations Wasps are now built on; the ability of the team to play with the ball from 1 through to 23 is remarkable and they have an admirable unity in defence.

Come the end of the season, if they continue in this vein, they may have new images of beaming black and yellow-adorned players lifting trophies to adorn their plush, extravagant Coventry home. New era, same club.

© Tom Hamilton

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