In 1999, professional rugby union outfit Wasps RFC changed their name to London Wasps to differentiate themselves from amateur side Wasps FC. It was the first in a series of changes that eventually saw the club relocated to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in 2015.
The team had been based at Adams Park in Wycombe, where they enjoyed great success in the Zurich Premiership after their move from Loftus Road in 2002. Wasps took the title in four of the next six seasons and won the Heineken Cup in 2004 and 2007.
After that, the club experienced financial problems, high-profile transfers of players like James Haskell and Tom Palmer to Stade Francais, plus retirements and long-term injuries to key players, which led to the side narrowly avoiding relegation in 2012.
With the club teetering on the brink of extinction, owner Steve Hayes joined forces with Wycombe Wanderers to move into a shared stadium. The deal fell through, however, and Hayes sold his stake in the club to Derek Richardson. The new owner realised desperate measures were needed if the club was to survive, so he took the unusual decision to relocate from High Wycombe to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Fans were naturally bemused and disappointed. They now faced a three-hour round trip to watch their team play in an unfamiliar stadium.
The team played their first match in the new venue midway through the 2014-15 season. Having dropped the London Wasps name and reverted to Wasps RFC, they began the new era with a 48-16 demolition of London Irish. This solid foundation helped the side to a sixth-placed finish overall.
Fans of any side tend to respond to success. So, while there was lasting bitterness among the club’s faithful followers after the move to the Midlands, the team responded to the criticism and their new surroundings with a solid 2015-16 campaign. Fifteen wins from 22 games helped them finish the season in third place on 72 points, only two behind Exeter Chiefs and eight behind Saracens.
With a capacity of 32,609 – the largest in the division – the new stadium was finally winning over the sceptics, and Wasps soon turned the venue into a fortress. Under coach Dai Young and captain Joe Launchbury, Wasps won 17 of their 22 matches in the 2016-17 season and topped the table with 84 points. Exeter, Saracens and Leicester Tigers rounded out the top four qualification spots for the playoff semi-finals. Wasps also recorded the third-highest attendance figures in the league, with an average of nearly 20,000 watching their unbeaten run of home games. This increased revenue helped the club achieve financial stability.
Under the current competition rules, league leaders Wasps played Leicester in the first semi-final at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, May 20. A pulsating match was decided in the hosts’ favour, 21-20 when Josh Barrett went over in the last minute to lift the roof off the new stadium. In the other semi-final, Exeter overcame Saracens in another tense encounter, 18-16.
Because they have scored 86 tries in the regular season, 888sport have Exeter at 53/50 to overcome Wasps in the final at Twickenham on May 27. The draw can be backed at 21/1 and Wasps are currently 4/5 to take the championship.
The club has come a long way since its last Premiership final in 2008. The move to Coventry may have caused controversy, but an established coaching team and consistent performances have finally won over the fans. A win at Twickenham would convert any remaining doubters.
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