I am sitting in an office in Henley-in-Arden with Lee Blackett and Stephen Vaughan having a chat about all things Wasps related. And no, this is not a dream or my imagination running away from me, (though it felt like this at times), this happened today.
I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. I have enjoyed some dialogue with Stephen over several months and was offered the chance to meet up in person and have a nose around the new training centre. After 0.01 seconds of consideration, I said ‘yes please’ before he could change his mind!
I can confirm the following:
- The facilities are amazing. I am fortunate to work in a school with some incredible sporting resources so know what ‘amazing’ looks like, but this place is unreal. Whether it’s the weights area, the meeting spaces or the training pitches, this base must be a privilege to work at. Additionally, it is in a genuinely lovely part of the West Midlands, with quick routes to Stratford, Solihull, Warwick, Leamington, etc, with Henley itself being a great spot. For those of you who have read James Haskell’s autobiography, the issues he mentions at Broadstreet must seem a distant memory to all the players and the staff from that era. This will, and probably already is, a game changer when it comes to retention and recruitment, I honestly believe that.
- There is a real appetite to engage with supporters. There has been a lot said on social media about this topic and I would suggest there are clear plans in place regarding this subject which will become more obvious in the coming months. What I would also say is I now appreciate far more the hugely detrimental impact Covid had on the support functions which would normally lead on this type of work, having been a bit naive about this previously.
- Lee and Stephen are two seriously impressive individuals. Lee talked to me about the culture him and coaching team are creating, and it is obvious that he has a very clear vision about where Wasps will be moving forward. I could not help but be excited about how he spoke about the club, the team, and the centre. Stephen could not have been friendlier, but alongside his warmth of character it was also very striking that he has huge ambitions for the club and has an absolute determination to achieve these.
- The visit reinforced to me what I suspected; the coaching staff know exactly what they are doing, and every team selection decision is based on what clearly is felt best for each match. Big calls are not made in isolation. If you find me questioning selection again, please remind me that those working with the players day in, day out, are significantly better placed and qualified to make these calls than I am or ever will be.
- I suspect we will see more and more individuals make the transition from the academy to the first team. With both being based on the same site, the production of players to challenge for first team squad places appears to be a real priority, unsurprisingly, but now there are significantly better resources in place to do this.
- The Jack Willis Sauna is a real thing. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I have no idea what the score will be on Saturday. I have no idea where Wasps will finish in the league next season. But as I said goodbye to Stephen this afternoon, I felt very confident that the staff I met today, whether that was coaches, players, executives or support team, are all working to the same goals. Wasps to do well, Wasps to win trophies and Wasps to be a club that we can all feel privileged to be someway associated with.
What a day. Thanks for reading.