Season Review: Wasps
Living up to the highs of the previous two Gallagher Premiership Rugby seasons was always going to be a difficult task for Wasps, who lost more games than they won for the first time since 2013/14.
An eighth-place finish will be regarded as a disappointment compared to their previous top flight campaign, which saw the Coventry-based side finish in third with 71 points.
But Dai Young’s side will take plenty of positives from finishing just five points outside a semi-final spot in what was a bizarrely tight Gallagher Premiership mid-table.
Wasps, who won ten and lost twelve in the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season, started the year brightly, winning four of their first five games in the league, only losing out to eventual finalists Exeter Chiefs.
Dai Young’s side celebrated an opening day victory, beating Worcester Warriors 21-20 at Sixways Stadium.
In fact, their early season form looked promising as they also defeated Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears, but it soon became evident that Young’s side were struggling to beat the big teams, losing to Gloucester, Northampton Saints and Saracens in the first half of the season.
It wasn’t meant to be for Wasps in Europe, either. They had a tough Heineken Champions Cup campaign, failing to register a win in their group where they suffered heavy defeats to Leinster and Toulouse.
The year looked set to end in miserable fashion following two successive losses to Saracens and Bath, but Wasps made sure they went out on a high with a 27-25 victory over Harlequins on the final matchday at the Ricoh Arena to confirm their eighth-place finish.
Wasps began to slide down the Premiership table after Christmas following a run of poor results, but the Black and Gold fans were eventually given a reason to cheer in Round 19.
Young’s men produced one of the biggest shocks of the Gallagher Premiership season in April, running out 29-19 winners against table-toppers Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
Willie Le Roux, Juan De Jongh, Marcus Watson and Zurabi Zhvania scored Wasps’ tries with Lima Sopoaga converting two and Elliot Daly one as the Chiefs lost at home in the Premiership for the first time in the 2018/19 season.
And for Wasps, it was their first ever victory at Sandy Park, and therefore a performance that will surely live long in the memory of many fans.
There were plenty of narrow wins for Wasps this season but amongst those, a highlight has to be Sopoaga’s late penalty to snatch a 23-22 victory away at Newcastle Falcons in September.
The Falcons led 22-13 in the second-half thanks to two tries from Johnny Williams, however a sublime 60th-minute try from De Jongh, converted by Sopoaga made it 22-10.
The fly-half then stepped up and showed no nerves as he landed a crucial 45-metre penalty with just eight minutes to go to secure a vital triumph on the road.
Lock Will Rowlands, who picked up the Players’ Player of the Season award, enjoyed a fine campaign in the Black and Gold, making 27 appearances and 253 tackles in the Premiership this season.
His most memorable moment came in the 29-22 victory over Bristol Bears when he scored a scorching individual try from the half-way line.
Meanwhile it was flanker Thomas Young who picked up the Supports’ Player of the Season award, after his numerous man-of-the-match displays for Wasps earned him his first call up to the Wales national team in almost two years.
Tom Willis heads a list of seven Wasps academy players to have signed first-team deals this summer after enjoying a breakthrough season at the Coventry-based club.
The 20-year-old England U20 back row made a name for himself this year, making both Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup appearances, his first league start coming against Northampton Saints in November.
Willis also played a key role for England U20s in recent months, captaining the side against Wales, Italy and Scotland and scoring tries against Ireland, France and Scotland.
He’s no longer a stranger to the big stage and will certainly be one to look out for next season.
Who’s in for 2019/20?
Wasps’ most recent signing is Newcastle Falcons winger Zach Kibirige, with the impressive 24-year-old becoming their 11th new recruit ahead of next season.
Speaking about the arrival of Kibirige, Young said: “We didn’t expect a player of Zach’s calibre to become available at this stage of the season and it was simply too good of an opportunity to miss.
“Since the departure of Christian Wade, we’ve been looking to inject some raw pace into the side.
“With the signings of Zach and Paolo Odogwu, alongside Callum Sirker graduating into the first-team set-up, we have three exciting, young English-qualified players with a huge amount of potential.”
The other ten players set to begin their journeys in Black and Gold are Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Hurricanes), Theo Vukasinovic (London Scottish), Ben Vellacott (Gloucester), Matteo Minozzi (Zebre), Biyi Alo (Coventry Rugby), Sione Vailanu (Saracens), Paolo Odogwu (Sale Sharks), Jack Owlett (Exeter Chiefs), Malakai Fekitoa (Toulon) and Mike Daniels (Nottingham).
Who’s out for 2019/20?
It’s going to be a new-look squad for Wasps next season with eleven players joining the ranks and plenty of big names heading for the exit door.
Another big loss will be the departure of utility back Elliot Daly, who has joined Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
Meanwhile, Nathan Hughes (Bristol Bears), Joe Simpson (Gloucester), Jake Cooper-Woolley (Sale Sharks), Will Stuart (Bath), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz), Joe Atkinson (Bedford), Michele Campagnaro (Harlequins), TJ Harris (Jersey Reds), Craig Hampson (Ealing), Kearnan Myall and Gaby Lovobalavu have all made the decision to leave Wasps for pastures new.