Joe Launchbury is a man in demand, and his club's director of rugby David Young needs no telling. "It's not a surprise to me that Saracens would be interested in Joe," says Young, responding to recent transfer talk surrounding Wasps' gifted England lock forward. "Every club would be.
"The reality is that he has one year left on his contract and no matter what king's ransom we'd been offered, we'd never release him. But it's up to us next season to prove to Joe that we're the club he should be staying at. People want to be in successful teams that are moving forward. If we can prove that to Joe, I am confident he'd want to stay."
This is not to say Wasps are a one-man team. But Launchbury's future fortunes will be a brilliant litmus test of a club that have been through hard times.
More than 30 international players have departed for other clubs or retired since Wasps last won any- thing in 2008. As Launchbury says: "It's my fourth year in the first team and the first time we've had something to play for at the end of the season" – namely today's Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final at home to Bath, plus a possible play-off to follow against a French club for qualification into the new European Champions Cup.
When Lawrence Dallaglio lifted the Premiership trophy at Twickenham in May 2008 it was as if the Wasps clock stopped. Everyone knew the club's totemic captain was playing his last match before retirement, but few would have predicted the simultaneous end to the era of expectation that Wasps would be contesting those showpiece occasions. They had won 12 major trophies including six league titles and two Heineken Cups – but have since not been to another final in any competition. They have finished in the bottom half of the Premiership in five seasons out of six, and reached just two semi- finals, including today's, out of a possible 18.
So what is it that inspires Young to insist the club are on the up again? In his opinion and that of Launchbury and team-mates who have endured wage cheques bouncing, injuries biting and confidence plummeting, it is the new ownership led by the Irish insurance businessman Derek Richardson.
"We haven't got our own ground, we haven't got our own training facilities," says Young, the former Wales and Lions prop. "What are we? We're just a badge, really. But we are planning to go forward and this is the first time I've been able to do that. Derek seems to have made it a bit of a crusade now to get Wasps back to where they were. But he knows it's not going to happen overnight."
The previously bleak financial backdrop is, according to Wasps' chief executive Nick Eastwood – another former Twickenham man, as financial director at the Rugby Football Union – getting brighter. Wasps' operating loss last year of more than £3million and debts in eight figures made them "highly geared", with a ratio of debt to turnover of 300 per cent. But Richardson, a rugby lover living in London, though a Leinster supporter by inclination, has taken care of the creditors. The Premiership's BT TV contract is, says Eastwood, worth an uplift of five to 10 per cent in annual revenue. English clubs generally are anticipating central rights revenues will at least double in the next seven to 10 years.
New money in sport often flows only one way: to the players. But Wasps, in the second stage of Richardson's three-part plan, have vowed to bolster Young's coaching and conditioning staff and, in stage three, find a stadium to own or be a major partner in. This is highly ambitious. More than 38,000 people attended the one-off "Stinger" league match against Gloucester at Twickenham last weekend. But average attendances for regular Premiership home games at Adams Park in High Wycombe are under 6,000. A 15,000-seater comes in at around £22m, and if Wasps refuse to rent from, say, Brentford FC or Queens Park Rangers, they must either find a partner with spare land in one of the world's priciest areas in the Home Counties or find a stadium to take over, such as Coventry's Ricoh Arena.
"The propaganda machine that Wasps used to be winning trophies and over-achieving out of nothing was complete rubbish," says Young. "They were innovators. They were the first to go for a team of physios and conditioners. Warren Gatland brought in one of the first defence coaches in Shaun Edwards and probably the best conditioning coach in Craig White. They had fantastic players. Saracens, Leicester, Northampton and Bath will still have a better squad than us next season. But maybe the season after – we're looking to bring in six players this summer and four or five the year after – we'll have a squad to compete."Reuse content