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'Mileage left in Young's Wasps'

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'Everyone is ready to put the hard work in to get Wasps back to where we want to be'

Santorini in the sun was as good a place as any for Rob Miller to recharge the off-season batteries this past weekend. 

It was a tough old campaign for the full-back. A tough old campaign, too, for Wasps. Inconsistencies were the bane of their year, frustrations that R’n’R in Greece provided some welcome balm for.

“I just get away from rugby a bit,” said Miller to RugbyPass about his off-season plans before jetting out from England. “Freshen up the mind, go and have a bit of a holiday and then spend some time with friends and family outside of the club — just freshen up the mind for what is going to be a big pre-season.”

That will be a slog he won’t have reservations getting to grips with. “I don’t mind,” he reckoned. “They are tough for a reason. They are meant to be tough and you get the work done early in the summer. 

“You need that baseline of fitness and conditioning, but when you’re in the middle of a pretty gruelling fitness session, they’re not the most fun.”

Finishing eighth in the Gallagher Premiership and getting schooled by Leinster and Toulouse in Europe wasn’t a whole heap of laughs either. 

Ambitious Wasps have been shooting for the stars in recent times. Finalists in the 2017 league after taking Exeter to extra-time in the decider, they were Champions Cup quarter-finalists in 2015 and 2017 along with reaching a semi-final in 2016.

The Dai Young formula, though, mislaid a few important ingredients these past nine months. Cause for concern? Not massively. Why else would Miller put pen to paper on an extension last December that will keep him in Coventry for some time yet.  

“It’s been frustrating. We haven’t performed to where we would like. In previous seasons we would be looking at play-offs and semi-finals and this year it wasn’t to be. 

“It was a really tight league. So many teams were within one or two wins of each other. For the neutral, it was a good season in terms of the strength of the competition. But from a Wasps point of view, we would like to have been in the play-offs. 

“We’ll take a look at it, reassess and come back at it. Everyone is ready to put the hard work in to get us back to where we want to be.  

“We have still got a lot of mileage (left). Absolutely. We have announced a quite high number of academy graduates that are pushing into the first team. That’s a good sign of what we’re doing as a club. 

“There are a lot of exciting times coming. Then obviously on top of that, we have some big names coming in. Someone like Malakai Fekitoa is going to add a whole lot of world-class skill into that group of players. It’s an exciting mix.”

A mix where Miller, who turns 30 in August, has constantly had to fight his corner. There were never any guarantees in summer 2014 when the former Falcon signed from Sale, the club he was at when he was the Premiership’s top try scorer in 20111/12.  

That potency had issues re-igniting this past season, Miller managing just a single try in 20 appearances across all competitions. However, the Cumbrian has never felt inferior when battling for a Wasps jersey, be it against the likes of All Black Charles Piutau, Springbok Willie Le Roux or Wallaby Kurtley Beale to name but three of the high calibre signings that Young has made a habit of making.

“Over the years lads have come and contributed loads. They are all world-class players and for me to be able to work alongside them and learn the best parts of their game and try and put that into my game is definitely a benefit,” reasoned Miller, the England Saxons representative who is now a veteran of 102 appearances these past five seasons for a club that is well settled in the Coventry area following its lock, stock and barrel switch from its old London nerve centre.

Miller wasted no time playing his part in that resettlement, his inclination to get stuck into a number of projects outside rugby resulting in him being shortlisted for the Gallagher Insurance community player of the year at last month’s awards ceremony in London.  

“When we moved up here it was a big shift from London, but everyone settled in pretty well,” he explained before going on to explain his non-rugby pursuits. 

“The soup kitchen in Leamington is called Helping Hands and the other charity is a voluntary drivers charity called VASA (Voluntary Action Stratford on Avon) that works with people in rural communities, people who struggle to get public transport or are isolated for whatever reason. 

“That might be bringing people to doctor’s appointments or to lunch club… it’s a social inclusion project as well. You meet a whole host of people and that’s something I really enjoy doing.  

Gloucester’s Ben Morgan is brought down by Wasps’ Rob Miller during a Gallagher Premiership match in March (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“You meet a whole range of people and although a number of people who come (to the soup kitchen) maybe don’t have a permanent home at that current time, there are people in there who have come out of hardship and they are just trying to get back on their feet.

“Helping Hands are fantastic. They offer a safe environment for people to come in the evening and from there the work that they do they will help people to get into work experience or a voluntary role, something to lift their confidence and get people back into work or social housing applications. The list is endless, the work they do. They play a fantastic role in the community.”

Why the urge in Miller to be so generous with his time? “Maybe with rugby at times we live in a bubble and you can go through week to week in your training week and then a game on the weekend and almost forget what is going on around you. 

Rob Miller has vowed to make Wasps better following a season where they fell off the pace in England and Europe (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“In the wider sense of the community, there is a lot of stuff going on that you’re kind of not aware of. I had a look and started to get involved, so Thursday night I will go down to the soup kitchen and help guys out down there. 

“As a rugby player we are very privileged the job that we have and it’s important that if everyone can contribute to their local community, not just rugby players, that is definitely a positive. 

“In my head, I felt that on my days off or when I have got some free time it was, ‘Well, what can I put my time to?’ It was something that was important to me to help out. If anyone can help in however small way in society it will go long way to improving it. 

“It was just something I said: ‘Okay, what can I do?’ The charities did a fantastic job welcoming me in… I just play a very small part in a very big wheel. The main people who day in day out work alongside these charities and give up a huge amount of hours helping out people, it’s nice for the charity to get recognition for their work.

“Wasps are fantastic. They have had a supporters’ shirt donation where they donated one of their older shirts to pass on to someone and they could swop for another one, and they have been to a few games as well. They have managed to get quite a few people down and have a day out at the rugby. They have absolutely loved that.

“We definitely use the power of the brand. Wasps is a huge name and the work done by the community department is fantastic. Moving to a brand new area and then developing that interest and pushing the brand in the community has been huge.”

WATCH: Part one of the two-part RugbyPass documentary series on what the fans can expect in Japan at this year’s World Cup

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'Everyone is ready to put the hard work in to get Wasps back to where we want to be'