James Haskell may be inextricably linked to the Adams Park era at Wasps, but the captain admits he is relishing the chance to lead out his side for the first time at the Ricoh Arena.
The England international made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old in 2002 when the club marked their first ever game in High Wycombe with a pre-season triumph over Connacht.
After 12 years at Adams Park that saw Haskell venture abroad for three years before returning in 2012, Wasps bade an emotional farewell last weekend as they secured a 44-17 victory over Castres in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Wasps are now hoping to get back to winning ways in Aviva Premiership Rugby when they host rivals London Irish in the opening fixture at their new home on Sunday.
And with ticket sales storming past the league home ground attendance record of 24,000 and Guinness providing free coach travel for season ticket holders, Haskell admits there is a welcome buzz around the move to Coventry.
“Our fans are extremely important to us and it is crucial that we look after them, so with Guinness putting on these coaches it means we can repay the fans that have stuck with us,” he said.
“The club may have moved ground but we are the same Wasps and need to involve the same people and it’s also a thank you for their continued support.
“I’m the last man standing here that played in the very first game at Adams Park so I had that added emotion for the final game, but this team has changed hugely.
“There were some great victories and good memories for Wasps there, it was our home for a long time and we wanted to do it justice.
“To beat the attendance record is fantastic but longevity is the key so we have to get a result in that first game at the Ricoh because we want people to keep coming back week in, week out.”
While the Exiles fell to their fifth consecutive league defeat last time out against Gloucester Rugby, Haskell has warned his players to underestimate Brian Smith’s side at their peril.
And while the England star downplayed the significance of the sides’ previous London-based rivalry, he has called on the home crowd to help Wasps easily settle into their new surroundings.
“From a players’ point of view, we have to make sure that we perform in that game against London Irish as I’m sure they would love to come and spoil the party,” he said.
“But it doesn’t matter exactly who we are playing, they would want to come along and spoil it, which will add the extra competitiveness.
“They’ll know that we haven’t played there before so it’ll be unfamiliar ground for both sides.
“Yet while it might seem like an away game, hopefully with all the fans and the passion in the stadium it will help us quickly make the stadium our own.”
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