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Bonus Points and the Bittersweet: Wasps' Latest Chapter

By Claire Thomas
Photo credit: David Howlett, Whisper Photography

Very few things in life are straightforward. There can be no juice without squeeze, and cranking up the brightness sometimes only enhances the shadows. That’s certainly the case in sport: for one competitor to triumph, another has to lose – and the journeys are never linear. Sport’s not that simple, and it’s perfectly possible for moments of joy to exist within an overarching narrative of struggle. More often than not – its storylines are bittersweet.


The final fixture of an eventful Round 13 was a prime example of this – a Sunday afternoon dappled with both fairy tale and foreboding. Wasps did something amazing: putting 28 on Worcester Warriors – their highest score of the season so far, and one bringing up their first points in the table. Helene Caux’s opportunistic bonus point try was celebrated as though it were a match winner down on the pitch, as Katy Daley-Mclean and I beamed at one another up in the little roof-mounted garden shed which serves as Sixways’ commentary gantry. That one was special.

And yet, as Wasps savoured their moment of magic, a concurrent plot played out. Yes – they had de-bagelled themselves in the standings – but they were also en route to shipping nine tries, and finding themselves with just five matches left in the Premier 15s.

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Their Head Coach, LJ Lewis, is days away from giving birth – despite having remained so hands-on that she was scaling ladders for a bird’s eye view of training as recently as last week – and so wasn’t in Worcester on Sunday. She deserved to witness each of those four tries first-hand, having worked tirelessly to sustain their campaign and very existence since taking over from Giselle Mather in July, but how exciting that there’s a tiny new Premier 15s fan on the way – perhaps even a Red Rose in the making…

We spoke in the week, though, and she explained how her last few months have involved balancing coaching and administrative duties with supporting a squad preparing for very different rugby futures. To all intents and purposes, ‘there is no team next season’ – and so she’s been helping each individual figure out next moves – whether that’s playing Championship rugby, signing for another Premier 15s club, or retiring from the game entirely.

Richard Green, Wasps FC Chairman, is determined to keep women’s rugby at the club – even only in an amateur capacity – and perhaps we’ll see the women in black and gold swarming back towards the sport’s top table one day. ‘The book’s not closed’, Lewis said: they might not be in the Premier 15s for a little while, but this is hopefully a ‘see you later’, rather than a ‘goodbye’.

In Round 18, when Bristol head to Twyford Avenue, it’ll be Wasps’ last dance for some time – and there are plans to get as many former players and supporters along as possible – to celebrate what has been, as well as what could be. It’ll be an emotional occasion, and – if you can’t get yourself to the ALPAS Arena on June 3rd – get yourself to West London.


(On the subject of Bears: where have they come from? Their clash with Harlequins this weekend has suddenly become as fascinating as it is must-win: they’ve got Exeter and Saracens lurking in Rounds 16 and 17, respectively – but could just about sneak fourth if they can get the job done on Saturday – aka get the ball up Lark Davies’ jumper, or to Grace Crompton, enough…).

Lewis also talked about how much she and her squad were looking forward to facing Worcester: Warriors are a ‘great team’ – as both opponents and people. There’s a real connection there these days, she observed: an affinity forged from their shared experiences over tumultuous seasons. Sian Moore, Worcester’s Attack Coach, concurred: Sunday was the meeting of two sides who’ve had to overcome more than any other, as their wider clubs entered into administration in the Autumn.

The difference in their futures, though, is stark. Worcester’s is secure. They’ve not haemorrhaged players, as Wasps have done. Rather, Jo Yapp’s not only retained – but added to – a core of seriously classy internationals, whilst bringing through some thrilling talent. Abi Kershaw, Evelyn Clarke, Jemima Moss, and Catherine Wells (remember the names) sparkled – and Vicky Laflin is looking more Red Rose-ready by the month. With long-term facilities and finances in place, they’ve been able to re-hire staff, like Team Operations Manager Mike Hall and Physical Performance Coach Ross Walley, and they’ve dispatched Harlequins and Loughborough Lightning already this year.

They’ve had to battle every step of the way, but Warriors’ path through the woods is clear – and their future is bright. Wasps’ fate, meanwhile, is set – and they have 400 minutes of Premier 15s rugby left.


But that’s not the storyline to end on. Not this week. Their focus on Sunday was, according to Lewis, points on the board: avoiding a sixth nilling of the campaign. Better yet, she challenged them, it was adding to their quintet of tries. Mission accomplished – and then some. Four seven-pointers bagged – thanks to Hannah Edwards’ truly excellent boot – almost doubling a season’s tally which had previously totalled just 38.

One for Katie Dougan – on her first start for the club. One for Andrea Stock – who hustled and hustled for eighty minutes. One for Becky Ball – who was immense, and who we wish all the best after what looked a nasty knee injury. None for Gretchen Weiners. And – and most crucially – one for the day’s skipper, Helene Caux, about whom Lewis ‘can’t speak highly enough’. The number eight’s been on a ‘massive journey’ since signing for the club – developing from a forward with heaps of potential to the team’s lineout caller, and now their matchday captain whilst Liz Crake returns from injury – a ‘highly respected’ leader who inspires all those around her with her relentlessly ‘fierce’ action. Amazingly, that 72nd minute bonus point score was Caux’s first ever Premier 15s try – and you can’t imagine she’ll score a more treasured one.

Which brings us to the aforementioned Crake. Twyford Avenue’s answer to Ellis Genge, the most dangerous dentist since the premiere of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, and one of the most heartening of Wasps’ narratives of late – having been named as one of nine uncapped players in Simon Middleton’s Six Nations squad. Lewis is both ‘blown away’ by the news, and entirely unsurprised: ‘why wouldn’t you be looking at her?’ She told me all the way back in Round Six that she was hopeful that Crake would receive a call-up, and had encouraged her to switch from the back row into the front with exactly that in mind. What a story it would be for Wasps’ talismanic skipper to pull on an England jersey this year: after being such an integral and inspirational part of the fabric of this beleaguered club.

Full time on Sunday: Worcester Warriors 55 – 28 Wasps. A loss, but a triumphant one. Bittersweet.

An emphatic beating taken all the way back down the M40 – with just five matches remaining in what’s been a tough, tough season – and the end of their time in the league looming large.

But, equally, their best performance of the campaign, the latest lesson in their masterclass in resilience, a precious and proud point in the standings, and the prospect of Crake running riot with a Rose on her chest. Wasps’ story is full of contrasts – but we’ll remember this weekend as one of the brightest chapters.


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