Rugby Union: Now Wasps decide smaller is better

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The Independent Online
THIS DOWNSIZING lark appears to be catching on. Wasps, the workaholic London club who go into this weekend's Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final with Gloucester at Loftus Road as tournament favourites, are the latest Premiership outfit to decide that the only way to grow bigger is to get smaller. Eight full-time professionals can expect to feel the cold wind of rejection at the end of the season, leaving Nigel Melville and company with a reduced squad of 26.

The more cynical observer will point out that with Lawrence Dallaglio coining a reported pounds 200,000 a year under the terms of his new 24-month contract - regardless of whether that figure is remotely accurate, the England captain will not be playing for peanuts - Wasps might find it difficult to adhere to a salary cap of any sort, let alone the pounds 1.5m proposal currently being kicked around the rugby boardrooms of England.

Indeed, the 1997 national champions have reduced further their supply of the folding stuff by agreeing an extended two-year deal with Kenny Logan, their Scottish international wing.

Nevertheless, they are confident of cementing their place among the English elite, especially now that the fruits of a pounds 4.5m parent company share issue are beginning to kick in.

"We're beginning to build the kind of supporter base we need to carry the project through and establish ourselves as one of the strong clubs, both here and in Europe," said Melville, their director of rugby, yesterday.

"London clubs are different to big-town clubs elsewhere, simply because there is so much Premiership activity in and around the capital. London's rugby public is a floating public and they go where the success is.

"The fact that we're averaging over 8,000 a game at Loftus Road suggests we're providing the right sort of product on the field."

Wasps' London rivals, Saracens, also felt they had their "product" right after going close to a league and cup double last season, but their failure to continue in the same vein has led to a serious player cull at Vicarage Road. Chronic cash-flow problems have forced Richmond, another ambitious capital outfit, to wield the axe even more brutally.

"Like many others, we have some tough decisions to make," admitted Melville, "but the fact that we'll have to cut back on the squad numbers means that people are desperate to play for their places. The strong survive in these circumstances."

Peter Scrivener, the quietly effective No 8 whose recent performances have been central to Wasps' late-season purple patch, will definitely miss the Gloucester outing on Sunday because of concussion.

Melville, who names his side today, will consider moving Joe Worsley from the open-side flank to the middle of the back row and recalling Paul Volley to the breakaway position.

Newcastle, who face Richmond at the Madejski Stadium in Saturday's semi- final, may well travel south without their former Springbok prop, Marius Hurter, who suffered a neck injury during the Falcons' 57-16 thumping at Northampton four days ago. Ian Peel definitely deputises for the big Northern Transvaaler in tonight's Premiership match with London Scottish and will almost certainly continue there if Hurter is ruled out of the cup match.

Richard Metcalfe is to undergo a back operation and will miss the remainder of Northampton's season.

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