Wasps left behind by Premiership's new breed
Huw Baines
April 11, 2012
London Wasps' Lawrence Dallaglio celebrates with the Guinness Premiership trophy, Leicester Tigers v London Wasps, Guinness Premiership, Twickenham, England, May 31, 2008
Lawrence Dallaglio lifts Wasps' most recent Premiership title in 2008 © Getty Images

Wasps are on the ropes, having soaked up an unbelievable amount of punishment in the last couple of seasons.

Lurching punch-drunk from the disappointment of their failed bid for a new stadium, scotched by Wycombe council last year, they tumbled into the relegation mire, with Tuesday's urgent call for new investors after a series of failed takeover negotiations perhaps the prelude to a knockout.

The threat of administration - and the 15-point deduction it entails - is a very real one for the two-time European champions, who have been on the market since October 2011. Owner Steve Hayes - who has not had the finest couple of weeks - opted to sell up after the collapse of his plans for a 'sporting village', which were central to the future development of the club.

Wasps are running on fumes. Their participation in any league - let alone the Aviva Premiership - next season hinges on an injection of cash, with around £2 million required in double quick time to secure their future.

It is imperative for the future health of the Premiership and English rugby as a whole that a club such as Wasps survives. The name, the shirt and the former players are all staples of the club game, they have currency in the plastic world of 'brand awareness'.

In London alone there are two examples - Saracens and Harlequins - of how investment can transform a club. Wasps needed that stadium terribly as a concrete base for their ambitions.

As it stands, they possess little of worth aside from a young playing staff and their history. Their ground, Adams Park, is not their own, and the same is true of their training facility in Acton. Until that situation is remedied, any new investment may remain a buoyancy aid.

It's now four years since Lawrence Dallaglio, the strutting peacock at the heart of the best Wasps sides, led them to a sixth Premiership crown and the turnover in playing staff has been huge. Since their heyday, Dallaglio has been followed out of the door by James Haskell, Tom Palmer, Danny Cipriani, Riki Flutey (twice), Tom Rees, Steve Thompson, Joe Worsley, Serge Betsen, Raphael Ibanez, Dan Ward-Smith, Paul Sackey, Phil Vickery and Josh Lewsey.

That's a pretty serious turnaround. A major problem for Wasps is that they can no longer trade on their on-field success. New investors will not be buying a swaggering giant, they will be buying a fresh start, albeit one that could be very, very exciting.

If Wasps can survive this situation and move on into next season, there is reason for hope. Palmer and Haskell are slated to return - from Stade Francais and the Highlanders respectively - to provide experience and power in a young side brimming with promise.

In Joe Launchbury, Sam Jones, Christian Wade and Elliot Daly they have the raw materials to work with. They are young and currently in the midst of a baptism of fire, but all four could be future England internationals. Wasps lie 11th in the table on merit, they have played poorly at times this season, but the future is not as bleak in a playing sense as it perhaps is on the balance sheet.

Success breeds success, but first there are serious issues to overcome, beginning with seeing out the next few weeks and then the question of a new stadium. The Premiership's biggest success stories - Leicester, Northampton, Harlequins, Exeter and now Saracens with their Copthall switch - are founded on solid ground. The age of the ground-share is drawing to a close and Wasps need a leg up to join the new breed. Let's hope that they find it sooner rather than later.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is a freelance rugby journalist

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