If Wasps win the Aviva Premiership title on Saturday, then there will be more than just a pang of nostalgia in the air. Those who were there in the dark days of 2012 will remember the financial uncertainty, the club scrapping for Premiership existence and the feeling of being haunted by their successful past.
The pictures of Lawrence Dallaglio and Co. on the walls of their Twyford Avenue training base served as inspiration but equally, albatrosses of expectation and a silverware-laden past.
Five years on and for Wasps, now one of the richest clubs in Europe, it is like night and day as they prepare for Saturday’s final against Exeter. The title would banish those ghosts, ones which have already been partly exorcised by the most breath-taking of try-filled seasons for the chaps from Coventry.
But what binds the penny-scraping days of 2012 and this era of all-court entertainers are those who have been through both chapters, the spine that has ensured the club has stayed true to the Wasps way. They are the Joe Launchburys, Christian Wades and Sam Jones’ of this world.
Ashley Johnson will be key for Wasps on Saturday (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ashley Johnson, the three-cap Springbok, arrived in 2012. The previous season they had survived on points difference. He encountered a beleaguered club, but one with a remarkable spirit.
“There’s been a lot of change off the field but the core and what we stand for have stayed the same,” Johnson told ESPN. “When we finished 11th, seventh and then first, the core sticks together.
“Coming through the hardship brought us all together and hopefully we can reward everyone who’s been part of Wasps and those who have got us back on our feet, and also someone like Tom Varndell who made the tackle that kept Wasps in the Premiership, so to reward all those people who’ve played a key role in Saturday’s final.”
Johnson has grown with the club, facing challenges head on. Back in 2015, he accepted the challenge of switching position, combining his back-row duties with the intricacies of hooker. Lesser men would have turned their nose up at the suggestion, but Johnson embraced it.
“I think at one point last year I was really struggling and I had a really bad game,” Johnson said. “When I was in the back-row and that happened, I’d already got loads of experience but then when I was doing something new at hooker, the doubts started creeping in.”
But here’s where the trust in Wasps’ mantra and values kicks in. On Saturday, as Johnson lines up at hooker, he will be thinking of the sacrifices he has made to be there, and how silverware will be a justification of all the challenges he has navigated.
“This year has been amazing, playing in both positions, and you don’t have any time to think about it. So it’s about experience and then drawing on that while enjoying the occasion. I’ve given up a lot — my family’s back home and winning the Premiership would be great for them.”
Johnson’s South African family won’t be there on Saturday; the difficulties of arranging a visa at short notice put paid to that. But next week he’ll return home for the first time in two years, hopefully clutching a Premiership winner’s medal.
Wasps is now a home-from-home for him, and he has helped his old Cheetahs colleague Willie le Roux settle into life at the Ricoh Arena. They have been teaching their Wasps teammates Afrikaans words, but with slight artistic license around their definitions, much to their amusement.
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Both will line up for Wasps on Saturday at Twickenham, looking to turn a season of graft into reward. Getting a home semifinal was the first part of the plan, and they ticked that off last weekend with their win over Leicester.
They learned from last year’s disappointment of losing to Saracens. “The more you play in those occasions, the more comfortable you become but in saying that, there were nerves and tension and in the end, it could have gone either way but the boys stuck to the game plan,” Johnson said, but Saturday is unchartered water for them.
Their last Premiership final was in 2008 when the great Dallaglio lifted the Premiership trophy in his final Wasps game. This crop of Wasps, renowned as the great entertainers, are looking to write their own page in the fine club’s history. But despite their penchant for scoring remarkable tries, they’d simply take a 3-0. They are the class of 2017, but they are fully aware of what has gone before them.
“For the neutral, everyone wants tries but we know that defence wins championships. We love to play and when we get the opportunity, I’m sure we’ll do that. That doesn’t mean we’ll tighten up, but we just want to play our own game. We don’t want to give our coaches a heart attack so we’ll be focused.
“You don’t play rugby for accolades but one day when you’re done, you can look back on it and say yep, that was brilliant. It’s also for your family and friends who grew up with you and helped give you the opportunity. It’s for all of them. I’m sure the boys will want to do that for their friends and family as well.”
Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/19458159/from-extinction-distinction-ashley-johnson-wasps-charge-final
Wasps hope to reward those who saved the club
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY