Hearts will be aching at the Ricoh Arena this week after Wasps’ narrow defeat to Saracens in the European Rugby Champions Cup semi-finals, but the players should hold their heads high according to former wing Paul Sackey, who insists that the glory days are not far off returning to the club.
Wasps lost 24-17 to Saracens on Saturday, having taken the early advantage in the opening minutes of the game through Dan Robson’s try.
It was the furthest Wasps had progressed in the competition since winning the Heineken Cup in 2007, but with a semi-final place secured in Aviva Premiership Rugby, silverware could still be on the horizon come the end of the season.
And while former England international Sackey, who made 121 appearances for Wasps during his five-year spell at the club, understands that the players will be hurting, he insists that there are many positives to be taken from their performance at the Madejski.
“It was a disappointing result, but the team should take heart from it because it’s been nine years since we reached a European semi final and they played so well,” said Sackey, who was attending the Wasps’ leg of the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup.
“Like James Haskell said in his post-match interview, it would have been more disappointing if they hadn’t put their bodies on the line and didn’t work hard, but they left everything out on the field, so for me, credit has to be given to Saracens because they came up against an amazing performance from Wasps.
“Just being there was a great achievement and to come so close to winning is fantastic for the club.
“I don’t want them to let their heads drop because they’ve got the Aviva Premiership title to go for now. That is the next job.”
Wasps’ Heineken Cup win nine years ago remains one of the club’s last great victories, with the memory of defeating treble-chasing Premiership Rugby Champions Leicester Tigers still vivid in the minds of many.
Then just 27 years old, Sackey played a big part in the win, and while he shares the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat, he is confident this is the start of something great.
“When we won the Heineken Cup back in 2007, it was probably one of the best days of my life,” he admitted. “And now that we’re based in Coventry, it probably means more because at that time, Leicester were our biggest rivals and now it’s our local derby.
“At the time, I was only young, and so to win a major trophy and to be the best in Europe was one of the biggest achievements I could have hoped for in club rugby.
“So on Saturday, just to even get into the semi-finals is a huge achievement for Wasps considering where they’ve come from.”
With four points separating Wasps and Saracens at the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and two rounds left, Saracens will be gunning to claim their second league title in as many years.
But even after defeat in the Champions Cup, Sackey believes Saracens’ dominance this season shouldn’t strike fear into the Wasps’ camp, insisting Dai Young’s side have just as much chance of lifting the trophy come 28 May.
“Saracens at the moment are arguably the best side in the Aviva Premiership and potentially in Europe, so to get so close to them in the semi-finals and giving them a really good game is fantastic,” he said. “The boys need to take a lot of positives from that.
“It was a sign that Wasps are getting back to the old ways. Over the last 10 weeks or so, I’ve felt like I have been watching the Wasps of old.
“If we get to the Aviva Premiership Final, anything can happen, we’re getting back to our best and if we can carry it through to next season, we really will be a force to be reckoned with again.
“They are exciting times for Wasps, especially with the move to Coventry, so hopefully this is the start of great things for the club and we can carry on with our winning ways.”
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