Wasps Unforgettables

Will Green

Tighthead-prop Will Green joined Wasps in 1992 as an 18-year-old schoolboy. He made his first-team debut three years later and appeared over 250 times before joining Leinster in 2005. A regular in the side which won the Courage League in 1996/97, he also played in seven winning finals and won four England caps.

EARLY DAYS

I loved all sports and played hockey, cricket and rugby for my school, Eastbourne College. One of our big local rivals was Brighton College, Alex King’s alma mater. I love reminding him of the time I caught him at short leg, after he edged into my stomach and it stuck. He was not pleased!

I played England Schools rugby and Geoff Strange, who managed Wasps Colts and Under 21s, recruited half the team, including myself.

My first Colts game was against Cardiff. Welsh hard men liked giving soft Home Counties types a rough time, which soon toughened us up! Geoff’s recruits were the heart of a very successful Colts team – Nick Greenstock, Andy Gomarsall, Darren Molloy, Paul Volley, Jonny Ufton, Dugald Macer, Lawrence Dallaglio.

 

WASPS MEMORIES

A couple of months after I left university, the game went professional. In the early days of professionalism, when we were still at Sudbury, conditions were pretty shambolic.

Although it was really a bit of
a dump, it was our dump but it kept our feet firmly on the ground and helped build a “them and us” mentality. In the year after it was sold, we trained in about ten different places.

When we were at Bisham Abbey, the physio had to put his bench up in the corridor. But we kept that core of players together which led to some fun times. Moving to Twyford Avenue finally gave us our own base again.

Winning the league in the first fully professional year was an amazing experience which sent a strong message to Rob Andrew and the others who’d gone to Newcastle.

We felt that a lot of the youngsters had been slightly suppressed by the old guard. We were unleashed on to the league and we pulled it off. We had some great stalwarts like Matt Greenwood and Gareth Rees and it was a team with  a lot of mismatches, but we won it.

Our first game at Loftus Road against Saracens, was a great occasion. I hadn’t played at Sale, a week earlier, but I  just remember the quality of the pitch compared to the previous week. We played some tremendous rugby that day and completely blew them away. It really set the tone for Loftus Road that season. It was a postage stamp-sized pitch, which really flummoxed some visiting teams. We hardly lost there that year.

One of my favourite memories is of scoring a try deep into injury time, to snatch a win at Kingsholm. The Shed went ballistic. After the game, I was interviewed on the pitch by Sky and somebody punched me in the back!

The double year of 2003/04, our Heineken Cup pool decider in Perpignan, was the most brutal game I’ve ever played in, but we knew we could take whatever they threw at us.

The moment when Lawrence got us together behind the posts at Lansdowne Road, after we’d gone ten points down in the semi against Munster, remains a blur. But I think he just told us that we were still in the game.

We were dominating it, and we let them in. We couldn’t believe we were losing by ten points. You know in a game whether you’re beating someone. Regardless of the score, you know whether you’ve got one over the opposition. We knew that we had. We knew they were pretty fragile. We just had the belief that it would come good.

It also comes back to wanting to prove people wrong. A lot of people felt we couldn’t do it over there. It may just have come from those chippy lads up at Sudbury.

I don’t know how we beat Toulouse in the final. If it had gone to extra-time, I’m sure we would have lost. I’m very proud of my tackle count of 18 that day - more than in
my previous five games put together. In some games, I made none! Six days later, our belief got us through in the Premiership final against Bath Rugby.

As well as the belief, our fitness was a major weapon. Those camps in Poland were really tough. The cryotherapy chamber sessions weren’t actually too bad. You knew that you were only in there for a couple of minutes, stomping around with your mates in the freezing cold. It was ice baths which really hurt. The pain, as your ankles began to go numb, was absolutely horrendous.

My final game for Wasps was the 2005 Premiership final against Leicester Tigers. I was up against Graham Rowntree. We’d faced each other many times and there was great mutual respect.

When a scrum went down, he kneed me, but I just belted him back and that was the end of
it! It was great to leave on a high and to close that particular chapter. What better way to end my time at Wasps?

THOUGHTS ON MODERN GAME

I loved being a professional player but I think the last few amateur years were a golden era for my generation. There was more to life than just rugby. Young players today have to make a massive commitment to the game at such an early age and they know that one injury could end their career. It’s such a power game now and defences are unbelievable. The athleticism of all the players is remarkable but it’s not really a game for all sizes any more - at least, not at the highest level. It’s absolutely brutal and attritional.

The World Cup showed again that the biggest challenge for the game is narrowing the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries. It wasn’t just the gulf in quality, it’s just dangerous for highly-paid, finely-tuned professionals to play against amateurs.

I still enjoy watching rugby, but my only direct involvement is a little bit of coaching at my son’s school. I find it rewarding but I wouldn’t want to do it week in, week out. It’s great to be part of Wasps Legends.

Saracens tried to get Peter Scrivener before he joined Wasps. If they’d succeeded, we wouldn’t have had to put up with him for all those years, but the Legends would never have happened, so every dark cloud has a silver lining!

Peter Scrivener

Peter Scrivener joined Wasps as an 18-year-old in 1992. A powerful number-eight, equally at homeas a lock or flanker, he spent 12 years at the Club. He was part of the squad which won the 1996/97 Courage League and also appeared in two winning cup finals, as well as the 2003 Parker Pen Challenge Cup and Zurich Premiership finals.

EARLY DAYS

My school (Coopers in Essex)was very sporty. I did most sports at county level or beyond including swimming, athletics, basketball, cricket and football, but I concentrated on rugby after I got into a fantastic England Under 18s schools team alongside players like Nick Greenstock, Andy Gomarsall, Jonny Ufton, Martin Corry, Gareth Archer, Tim Stimpson, Mark Denney and John James Abadom.

Growing up in Essex I should have gone to Saracens but Geoff Strange at Wasps was extremely persistent and rang me every single day for about two months, telling me to join Wasps! Sudbury was a long round trip from home, but after my first training session I found another home!

WASPS MEMORIES

At my first training session I was thrown in at the deep end with the first-team and to my surprise I was selected on their traditional pre-season camp in St Jean-de-Luz. I was only 18 and surrounded by my heroes, but I was immediately initiated into the back-row union, with guys like Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Greenwood, Dean Ryan, Chris Wilkins and Buster White. Dangerous company - and they still are. A lot of my old England Schools teammates also joined Wasps and phenomenal Under 21 team, which developed into a successful first-team. We enjoyed ourselves on the field and even more off it!

Tragedy hit as my mum died when I was 21 but my Wasps family was with me during that tough time. I remember arriving for the funeral and wondering why so many people were outside
the church. When we went in, we realised that practically everybody from Wasps was already inside. Two days later, we had a game at Sudbury. I went into the dressing room and Richard Kinsey gave me a big hug and said: “You’re with me today... all day.” We of course won and I’ll never forget the kindness the whole club showed my family at that time.

When the game went professional it was an incredibly exciting time for a 21-year-old straight out of uni on £25k and a £1250 win bonus! In those days we won a lot of games and we really had fun as we were all single! Wasps changed gears when Inga Tuigamala arrived at the Club and that for me was when it really went pro. He came in and we all just looked at him. Inga was on a different level and he just changed our game and training ethos.

We won the Courage League in 1996/97 then the cup in 1998/99 and 1999/2000. There were so many great games that it’s hard to pick any out, but the 1999 final win over Newcastle Falcons is a very special memory as that day our back- row dominated completely. Our Heineken Cup game in Bourgoin also stands out. It was a really partisan atmosphere, there were a few hundred Wasps supporters there and they created the ‘Allez’ chant. We won, then had a great night in the town. The locals gave us a fantastic welcome wherever we went, which is what rugby is all about. A couple of years later, Nigel Melville moved on and Warren Gatland took over. He was and still is a brilliant man manager, an incredible individual. He brought in Craig White, who was, and probably still is, one of the best fitness coaches in the world. There was also Paul Stridgeon, aka Bobby. He contributed so much to the Club both on and off the field. He created the Bobby Cup which is still one of the funniest things ever created at Wasps!

And then there was Shaun Edwards... a LEGEND of Rugby League. I remember lining up against an incredible Wigan team at the Middlesex 7s. Quinnell, Farrell, Tuigamala, Connolly, Robinson, Offiah, Radlinski and Shaun. The Lol (as he liked to be called) told us we had to “smash Edwards”. Right from the kick-off, I hit him with a very, very late tackle. He spent the rest of the half chasing me and I learnt the northern language very quickly.

I infamously held the record for Wasps’ fastest substitution – 26 minutes, due to three errors. It became a running joke as Paul Sampson then took over, when he lasted two minutes, but Oogie (Ayoola Erinle) holds the record. He came off the bench, made three mistakes in 30 seconds, and was immediately replaced!

People still remind me of the Heineken Cup game against Llanelli at Loftus Road, when I showed electrifying pace to chase Alex King’s kick to the corner, then produced a staggering piece of skill to gather and score. I raised my arms and started blowing kisses at the stand. Then I looked up and realised that the stand was empty! Classic!

Unfortunately, injuries really liked me and over a 12-year career I was injured for five years. In 1998 I was the highest-paid player in the world but unfortunately it was per minute! While I was in rehab, I got involved in other areas, and filled in as press officer for a while. When it was reported that we were moving to Wycombe, a journalist rang asking whether the rumours were true. I just said: “It’s a secret!” He then rang Nigel Melville, asking who ‘the idiot in the press office’ was! I said Richard Birkett as he was my assistant idiot!

"There were so many great games that it’s hard to pick any out, but the 1999 final win over Newcastle Falcons is a very special memory as that day our back- row dominated completely"

CURRENT INVOLVEMENT

My big worry about the game today is that not enough is done to help players when they retire. One minute they’re earning big money and being looked after. Then they’re starting at the bottom again and having to look after themselves. I’ve helped numerous players find new careers but they have to remember the fantasy lifestyle can end with one tackle! They need to help themselves as well and make the most of their contacts whilst playing.

I’d built up a lot of contacts during my career and when I retired, people reached out to help, for which I am very grateful, and I went straight into a job in sports ticketing. In 2005, I came back to Wasps as Commercial Director which was a dream job. I loved it, the players and the fans.

That’s when we started the Past Players Network to bring the old boys back into the Club but this has grown into the Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation. It started with a few exhibition games but now we have a charity lunch in the city called the Long Lunch, a marque golf event in La Manga which in five years will raise £500k and more events will follow.

We have created a “Friends of the Legends” Membership which we would like every fan to join as there are some incredible benefits but more importantly you become part of our family which helps thousands of individuals.

Once a Wasp Always a Wasp.

www.waspslegends.co.uk

Andy Gomarsall

Scrum-half Andy Gomarsall joined Wasps in 1993 and made his senior debut a year later. He spent six years at the Club and was part of the team which won the Courage League in 1996/97 and the Tetley’s Bitter Cup final in 1999. Gomarsall made his England debut in 1996 and went on to win 35 caps. He played in two World Cups, making two appearances in the victorious campaign of 2003 and six, including the final, in 2007.

STARTING OUT

It was my dad’s love and enthusiasm
for the game which got me started. He and a couple of other fathers set up
Bicester Minis. On our first Sunday, there were only five of us and we couldn’t even raise a team. Now, there are over 500 kids every week. James Forrester (Gloucester Rugby and England) and Jon Goodridge (Gloucester, Leeds Carnegie and Bristol Rugby) also started there, and their dads both helped.

Dad sent me to Bedford School, because there was a rugby master there who saw something in me. I loved it there and the former England captain and RFU President Budge Rogers, who was an Old Bedfordian, saw me play and started putting the word around. Wasps picked up on it and that’s how I ended up there.

WASPS MEMORIES

I played for England Schools and Colts and got to know the likes of Nick Greenstock, Peter Scrivener, Jonny Ufton and Jonny Abadom. They were all going to Wasps, so I had some mates who were already playing a great standard of rugby. Then Chris Braithwaite, Dugald Macer and Will Green (dangerous company) all persuaded me to join them at Oxford Brookes, where I spent four years.

Just after leaving school, I went on a Wasps Under21s tour to Canada. We arrived in Toronto the day before my 19th birthday and did what all touring rugby teams did. We went to a bar to acclimatise. When I came out of the bar, I was immediately arrested for ‘under-age drinking’. I was put in a squad car, with the rest of the team waving me goodbye. I was really worried and the car drove around for several minutes before returning to the bar, where the team were still standing, cheering and clapping. It had all been a hoax. They’d completely stitched me up. After that, I knew Wasps was the club for me.

There were a few injuries, so I soon found myself in the first-team squad. On my first away trip, I sat next to Jeff Probyn on the bus, and he looked after me. There were great players like Nick Popplewell and Kevin Dunn. Buster White worked for Nike, who sponsored me, so he became my kit manager. We also had Dean Ryan, Steve Bates, Damian Hopley and Alan Buzza, so young players really were learning from the best.

Lawrence Dallaglio and I sat on the bench a lot. In those days, there were only three replacements - a hooker, a scrum-half and a back.

Lawrence covered all the outside- backs, as well as the back-row.

When Rob Andrew went to Newcastle Falcons, afterthe game turned professional, Steve Bates went with him, so that was my big chance. I soon played for the Barbarians alongside Neil Back and I remember being amazed by his level of fitness, even in the amateur days, so I knew that this was a big step up.

Steve Bates had never helped me, when I was starting. It was Chris Wright - the player, not the owner - who went out of his way for me and I always made sure that I did all I could to

help young players, throughout my career. At Wasps, there was great competition between myself, Martyn Wood and Mike Friday. In a situation like that, you don’t always see eye-to-eye, but it was healthy competition and we are all very good friends.

Rob Henderson was one of the great characters. He knew what
it meant to be a Wasp, both on
and off the field and he took the off-field antics to another level. We thought he was destined to become a publican, as he spent so much time in the pub!

We had some great times and the first professional year was very exciting. With the move to Loftus Road, we felt like rock stars, even though it was half-empty. I remember Peter Scrivener scoring under the posts and celebrating to an empty stand. When Nigel Melville signed Inga Tuigamala, it was a huge eye-opener for us. We thought we were professional, but Inga showed us what real professionalism was.

Winning the league in 1997 was amazing and
we then reached two cup finals, losing in 1998 and winning in 1999, but one of my outstanding memories was of that Heineken Cup game against Toulouse, when we beat them 77-17. It was a day when everything we touched turned to gold. Every player shone and we just made them look ordinary. It’s just a shame that it was in a dead rubber, rather than in a final.

 

CURRENT INVOLVEMENT

I remain very involved with Wasps Legends, although we don’t play any more. We’re at an age where the risk of injury is higher, so we concentrate on fundraising. It’s like mini tours without the rugby and Scrivs has arranged some amazing trips to Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and the Isle of Man.

The modern game is great to watch, although I fear for player safety, as it has become so physical. I was a co-commentator on the last two World Cups, but my business commitments mean that I don’t have the time any more. I offer support and help to the RPA, with insight on where I’ve been and where I am now, in business.

I loved what the RFU did when they announced the World Cup squad. They put together a video, which showed the history of every player and they’d all started out in the amateur game. I was very fortunate to have played as an amateur and a professional and it’s important that everybody has their roots in the amateur game. That ensures that the culture, the traditions and values of rugby will continue to thrive.

Paul Sackey

RUGBY CAREER

I started rugby quite late, around 13 or 14. I played football, but then I was sent to a rugby-playing school, John Fisher, in Purley. I skipped rugby but all my mates played. When they came to my house, my dad wasn’t too pleased to hear I wasn’t playing, so I gave in. I started at six, then eight, but I hated it because I kept getting battered. Then I went along the backline and ended up on the wing.

When I was about 16, I was playing for a junior team on the next pitch to the first-team. One of their wingers got injured and I got called in to replace him. I scored two tries and that was it. That season, we won the National Schools 7s and I won man-of-the-tournament. Lawrence Dallaglio presented the prizes, but I had no idea who he was. After that, I started supporting Wasps. An agent got in touch - Maria Pedro, Phil Keith-Roach’s wife - and I ended up at Wasps, training with the first- team and playing for the seconds.

Andy Gomarsall, my mentor, was about to join Bedford Blues. He suggested that I should go there, because there were so many wingers at Wasps that it would take me ages to get a chance. I had a season there but they were relegated. I joined London Irish, where I had the most fun of my life.

Although I loved Wasps, I hated playing against them, but my best ever try was for Bedford Blues against Wasps, at Loftus Road. I skinned Josh, Kenny and Shane Roiser. I’d love to see it again but I can’t find any film of it.

WASPS MEMORIES

Early in the 2004/05 season, I’d decided to leave Irish. I’d always wanted to go back to Wasps and I eventually made the move in March 2005. Two months later, we were in the Premiership final against Leicester Tigers.

They had two giant wingers, Alessana Tuilagi and Seru Rabeni, who’d been slaughtering everybody all season. Tom Voyce and I were facing them. Shaun Edwards told us that they’d been taking the mickey all season, but he’d buy us the best champagne and best cigars we’d ever seen if we stopped them from scoring. They didn’t get a sniff, we won easily and Voycey and I took Shaun up on his promise!

When I came back to Wasps, I had a reputation as an attacker, but it was Shaun who turned me into an effective defender. Irish had used the same system, just not quite as well. It only needed a few tweaks from Shaun and I found it fairly easy to adapt.

A lot of people still talk about a try I scored against Clermont Auvergne in a Heineken Cup game at Adams Park. I finished off a move which Danny Cipriani started in his own 22. Cips was only 20 and it was his first season as first-choice fly-half. It was incredible that he could start a move like that against a team like Clermont. I think a lot of that confidence came from working with Margo Wells, his sprint coach.

I remember a game against Gloucester Rugby, when we were 20-30 points down, well into the second-half. While we were behind the posts for a kick, Lawrence got us together and said: “We’re giving them too many easy points, just calm down and do your job and we’ll win.” He was right and we did win. That was the sort of confidence and belief we had. I always trusted everybody on the pitch to do their job, which made it easy for me to do mine. I knew that if we needed to win, we would. There was never any doubt in my mind. Gats (Warren Gatland) and Shaun gave us that belief and Geech (Sir Ian McGeechan) kept it going.

I think I’ve had the best coaches in the world. As well as Gats, Shaun and Geech, I had Mike Catt and Brendan Venter at Irish and they both taught me so much.

I’m proud of the fact that I was the first Wasp to score at The Ricoh in the 2007 Heineken Cup semi-final against Northampton Saints. I actually got two tries, but the first gave me a permanent place in the history books.

MODERN RUGBY

The game is very entertaining to watch but defences are much tighter. I knew I could always target a forward and beat him easily, but it’s much harder now. You have to go through so many phases to set up an opportunity, but even then there’s no easy target. Forwards are now much more skilful and athletic and you can’t take it for granted that you’ll skin them.

People say the game’s become more physical, but it was more brutal when I played. There were flying arms all over the place and forwards expected to end the game with stud marks all over their backs.

LIFE AFTER RUGBY

I recently worked with the Wasps Community Team since the move to The Ricoh and I loved it. Wasps is an amazing club which helped me to grow as a person. I love going out and telling people how fantastic Wasps are. They have great people and they are there to be part of the community and to help it grow.