London Wasps’ supporters are going through the uncertainty familiar to every club in any code who undergo a change in ownership at the same time as asking themselves what they are all about.
A move from Adams Park has been certain since the owner Steve Hayes shipped out last year.
And the recently arrived chief executive Nick Eastwood wrote in the match programme for Saturday’s agonising 26-24 loss to Northampton of “exploring what the Wasps brand means”, which suggests either the ‘London’ will go or the ‘Wasps’ will go – or perhaps the wasp on the badge will just face the other way. No such identity crisis for Northampton. A poor run of results earlier in the season had threatened their chances of a fourth straight appearance in the play-offs. But they have won four on the spin now and, having beaten Wasps in each of the seven previous meetings, they deployed their favourite tactic of the driving maul to devastating effect.
Two Wasps forwards – Rhys Thomas and Tom Palmer – went to the sin bin, as did Ashley Johnson in the 74th minute in the run-up to Christian Day’s last-ditch try for Saints, converted for a bonus-point win by Steve Myler.
Northampton threw mostly to the big flanker Samu Manoa in the line-out and drove from there with the likes of Soane Tonga’uiha and Dylan Hartley doing the steering.
“The driving maul worked for us here but next week it might not,” said Hartley, who put his name on Saints’ third try in the 34th minute and had his shoulder to the wheel in each of the other three including the early penalty try that cost Thomas his yellow card.
Christian Wade had few chances to stretch his legs but anyone who says the Wasps wing is too small was confounded by his turnover that led to the Premiership’s leading tryscorer Tom Varndell running in his 12th of the season. As for Elliot Daly, his wondrous long-range goal-kicking and a try past four Northampton defenders, make him an exciting prospect.
The summer may see Wales wing George North joining the incoming backs coach Alex King and scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i at Northampton. Similarly Wasps are bringing in a loosehead prop, Matt Mullan, and experienced fly-half, Andy Goode. For now the clubs are in the top half of the table, but not deserving of much more.
London Wasps: H Southwell (capt); C Wade, E Daly, C Bell, T Varndell (A Masi 59); Stephen Jones (N Robinson 62), J Simpson; T Payne (Z Taulafo 48), TR Thomas (T Lindsay 52), P Swainston, T Palmer (J Launchbury 48), M Wentzel, A Johnson, Sam Jones (J Haskell 48), B Vunipola.
Northampton Saints: B Foden; J Wilson, G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott; S Myler, L Dickson (M Roberts 55); S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley (capt), T Mercey (B Mujati 48), C Lawes, C Day, S Manoa, P Dowson, GJ van Velze (T Wood 48).
Referee: D Rose (Plymouth).