Wasps succeed in silencing Ricoh critics – for now

James Haskell has been abused on Twitter over Wasps’ move

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The Independent Online

The social-media trolls have logged off; the online petition protesting against Wasps’ move to Coventry is beginning to gather dust. From the Rugby Football Union there is silent acquiescence.

Whatever doubts have been expressed about Wasps’ relocation to the West Midlands, they will be drowned out, temporarily at least, by a 27,000 crowd for today’s match against London Irish at the Ricoh Arena.

There are 2,970 signatories to the petition, still open on the internet, that demanded Wasps remain “in or around” their London roots, but only two added in the last 19 days. The club’s captain James Haskell revealed he had been abused on Twitter by fans of AFC Wimbledon, who saw a parallel with the purchase of Wimbledon Football Club, retaining its League position and relocating to Milton Keynes in 2003.

They have not stopped Wasps fleeing the nest. “All these people were piping up, and some were nothing to do with rugby,” said Haskell. “The ‘riots’ that were going to happen, they never did.” The RFU, while refusing requests for someone in governance to be interviewed, maintained this was not an MK Dons-style case of a club being bought and moved, pointing out that Wasps are still training in Acton, west London, and operating the England Academy regional licence for Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, whereas Coventry, rugby-wise, is in Warwickshire.

But all the academy licences are up for renewal in 2016, and Wasps’ plan to move their training base to within 20 minutes of Coventry by summer the same year. Will the regulators think differently in 18 months’ time? Worcester, whose academy works with players across the West Midlands, are keeping tabs but not commenting publicly.

For now, money talks, and it has shouted in favour of Wasps’ 80-mile leap from renting Adams Park in High Wycombe towards what they claim will be a profitable future. On the face of it, Derek Richardson, the Wasps owner since April 2013, has done a cracking deal in Coventry, buying a stadium, hotel, conference centre and casino with predicted annual turnover of £21million for around £5.5m, plus a long-term loan of £14m to be repaid to the city council.

Jaguar Land Rover are involved as heavy-hitting sponsors; it would be logical if their employees at two local car plants were offered discounted tickets. Knocking out “comps” and cheap seats is how Saracens – who have been left by Wasps with north London as their playground – built crowds for occasional home matches at Wembley, to the extent that Harlequins’ visit last March made £500,000 from an 83,000-plus attendance.

So is anyone in Lady Godiva country upset by the move? Coventry City FC face being Wasps’ tenants or finding a new home. Coventry Rugby Club, playing in the equivalent of the third division, have kept schtum. With 68 per cent of Wasps’ tickets today sold to people with CV postcodes, the natives appear friendly. “That part of the country is very rugby-hungry,” said Haskell. “Ultimately longevity is the key. I would take half of today’s crowd, every week, if we could.”

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