"On the afternoon of Saturday, May the 5th, I shall be nearing the city of Mantova (Mantua), in Northern Italy, on the latest stage of the Dallaglio Flintoff 2012 Cycle Slam. Although it will be wonderful to be riding through the land of my father, I can assure you that my head and heart will be in Buckinghamshire, as Wasps go into the most important game in their history.
We can all remember glory days at Twickenham, where we won nine finals between 1999 and 2008, but far more is riding on the game against Newcastle Falcons. Relegation shootouts can damage your health, and I know both sets of supporters will be running through a whole range of emotions, in the final game of the season.
It’s stating the obvious to say that this has been a tough season for Wasps. The injury list has been horrendous, and it’s been heart-breaking to see such great players as Joe Worsley, Dan Ward-Smith, Steve Thompson, John Hart and Tom Rees being forced to retire. They were all huge losses, but I left Tom until last because he was the youngest (only 27) and still had so much time ahead of him. He has to be one of the unluckiest people in the game, having suffered injury after injury, and his premature retirement is a massive loss – for Wasps, and for England. With better luck, he would have been England captain by now, with 50 caps or more to his name.
Despite all the gloom, some big positives have come out of this painful season. I’m talking about the young players who’ve had to step up, and who have performed so superbly, in the face of great adversity. I hope I’m not patronising them, if I say that they are boys who have become men. It’s a tribute to all of them that Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade are on the shortlist for the Land Rover Discovery of the Year award, but they are not the only ones who have made a name for themselves this season. Elliot Daly and Sam Jones have become first team regulars, while the likes of Jack Wallace, Charlie Davies and Matt Everard have all put in some outstanding performances. I wouldn’t wish a season like this on anybody, but I firmly believe that this crop of young talent will be all the better for their experiences of the past eight months.
Although not all of those players came right through their Academy, Wasps can still be proud of the way in which they have developed, and are continuing to develop, young English players. Much of the credit for that must go to Rob Smith and his team. I know that there are some more stars of the future coming through the system, and I can assure you that I shall be doing all I can to ensure that they will be wearing the Black and Gold for many years to come.
The Newcastle game will not be easy. Falcons, just like Wasps, will be fighting for their lives, but I’m confident that, with your support, our boys can produce a performance to make you all proud, and keep Wasps where they should be, in the top flight of English rugby.
I firmly believe that the right result on May the 5th can lay the foundations for a brighter future. Despite all the problems, Dai Young has done an outstanding job this season. Many a lesser man might have buckled under the strain, but he has just got on with things, without complaining, and he has already assembled an excellent squad for next season. With better luck on the injury front, I see no reason why we should not be fighting things out at the other end of the table. So please get behind the team, and give them the sort of support which has helped to make Adams Park such a difficult place for visiting teams, for much of the last ten years.
I mentioned support, and I’d now like to ask you for your support for the Dallaglio Flintoff 2012 Cycle Slam. Freddie and I set off from Olympia – the setting for the original Olympic Games, in Greece – on April 23rd. 250 other riders are joining us for all, or part, of the ride. By the time we reach the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, on May the 18th, it will have taken us through Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France, covering a distance of nearly 1,800 miles. I hope to see some of you, at journey’s end!
Our aim is to raise £2,012,000 for various charities, but particularly for Cancer Research UK and its ICGC research project, which could change the face of prostate cancer treatment for millions of patients around the world. Prostate cancer has claimed the lives of so many people over the years, including the great Andy Ripley, so this is a cause which should have some resonance in the rugby community.
Details of the ride can be found here - you can even track our progress!
To make a donation, you can text SLAM5 (£5 will be added to your bill) or SLAM10 (£10 will be added to your bill) to 70300. Alternatively, you can sponsor us online.
I hope that the result of the Newcastle game will give us an excuse to get the prosecco flowing in Mantova , and I am sure that your support can ensure that the Slam reaches its target, and that Wasps begin next season at Twickenham, in the London Double Header.
Mille grazie, e Forza Wasps.