Livescore Thursday, April 25
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Following Wasps’ final game in the Premier 15s, captain Liz Crake, interim head coach Oli Bishop, and club legend Helen Harding paid tribute to their final season and the legacy that is being left behind.

Crake has had a spectacular season filled with bittersweet memories from winning her first England cap to valiantly captaining Wasps through a period of turbulence and uncertainty.

While many players from Wasps switched teams prior to the season due to the situation the club was facing, Crake was determined to stay at Twyford Avenue to focus on getting as much game time and experience as possible.

She said: “It crossed my mind [leaving] in the same way it did with everyone because there was so much uncertainty. For some players, it was their livelihood. They had to leave because they were no longer getting paid. But for me, it was never my livelihood but it was a toss-up between whether or not the standard of rugby that we were going to be able to train at not being that high but do I want the game time and the training time?

“For me, I really wanted to push for international so if I’m not getting good game time or a lot of possession and carries and those kind of things then I’m never going to be on their radar. So for me, I’m going to pick game time over everything so I made that decision early and then said to LJ [Lewis] that I wanted to learn something else while I was here so I asked if I could be the captain and never looked back after that.”

Crake, who is an NHS dentist alongside playing rugby, will be staying in the area next season when she joins Ealing Trailfinders, only a few kilometres down the road.

She remains confident that Wasps will make a return to the Premiership at some point.

The forward said: “I would love to [see Wasps back in the Premiership]. I think it’s such a legendary club, there is so much history here, not just the women but the men as well. I can’t envision a future where Wasps isn’t part of a premiership side.

“However long that takes us, who knows because the men are struggling to find the funding but if they can get their stuff together and hopefully they’ll pick up a women’s team and we can start from there.

“There is so much history here and so many faces that you recognise or know. The amateur team came and trained with us on Thursday and that was such a sweet moment for us of passing the baton and almost saying ‘The history is yours now, take it where you want.’ I’d like to think we’ve left the shirts in a really good position and they are ready for someone to pick up and take forward next time.

“They are the trailblazers. The saying ‘You’re standing on the shoulders of giants’, that’s what it is at this club. It’s always been a big family. It’s always had support and there’s always been a big group behind us so to see them all here and rally behind us is incredible.”

The club’s final day in the Premier 15s was a special one in so many ways, and some of the smallest details evoked the strongest emotions.

While having names on the backs of shirts is yet to be added to the minimum operating standards in the Premier 15s, Bristol Bears were the first team in the league to add them, much to the delight of players.

Wasps ran out at Twyford Avenue for the final time in the Premier 15s with their names on the back of their shirts for the first time ever, making it the first fixture in the women’s Premiership where the shirts of both teams included players’ names.

Interim head coach Bishop had arranged for the names to be printed on the shirts for the final game as a surprise, and even club captain Crake was unaware of this until a one-off shirt presentation evening which was held on the Thursday before their final game.

“I had no idea that it was happening. I was always going to try and steal my shirt whether they were going to let me or not,” Crake said with a laugh.

“Oli had said to me on the Tuesday night, ‘We are going to do some kind of speeches, you just have to stand at the front and shake hands.’ I had no idea what was happening and I got up and saw it was a shirt presentation and thought that was lovely. I even handed the first one and didn’t realise it had the name on it until Oli told me to turn it round!

“It means a lot. It was just such a nice touch from the club to be like this is your legacy and what you have earned throughout the season. Bristol are the ones who started that this season in terms of wearing names on the shirts so it’s like a nice little circle,” she added.

Wasps played against Bristol Bears in the first game of the season so having them as the opposition for their final game in the competition was a full-circle moment for the club to round off what has been a testing season both on and off the pitch.

Former Wasps players now in the Bears team paid tribute to their time at the London club by wearing one black and yellow sock along with one sock in Bristol colours. It was particularly moving for Crake when she saw this support from former teammates on the opposing team.

She said: “I saw one of the girls come out and I was like’ Oh my gosh I’m going to cry! ’It means a lot, they were the first team we played this season and at the end of that game we had a little huddle with them and they said ‘We are really hopeful for you and sorry that you are in the position that you’re in.’ To finish with this game and that they were allowed to show their support in that way was a really nice touch from them.”

While it is often the players who are the ones who are immediately thought of in such situations of adversity at a club, it must not be forgotten that all of the staff have been equally affected.

Bishop has been at the club for ten years and spoke after the game on Saturday of the learnings he has taken from this season in particular.

He said: “I think it’s always a learning curve. This past year I’ve learnt more than I ever have in any year. You always have to take the rough with the good. I’ve had some incredible years at the club and it’s been amazing.

“There have been better years before me and this year has been extremely tough but you learn a lot when things are tough and you understand who you are as a person and what your core values are and what you’re about. I think for the staff and the players, we’ve all found that out.

“Even though it’s been hard, next season and the season after we’re going to benefit from it and it’s going to be incredible.”

Bishop will be joining Crake alongside a few familiar faces from Wasps who are making a move to Ealing Trailfinders.

For him, the adversity that they have faced as a club this year has highlighted the importance of cohesion and connection.

He said: “Everyone’s always best mates when things are going well. If you’re winning, there never seems to be any problems, but when you start losing and things start to get tough, when you go into administration, and s***t hits the fan that’s actually when you find out a bit about people.

“This club has always been about the people. It’s not been about where we’re based, what our facilities are, or what our [weight] plates are like in the gym, it’s about the connection that we have. Throughout the years that I’ve been here and the years and years before me, this club has been about once a Wasp, always a Wasp.”

One person in particular who embodies the Wasps spirit is Harding. With an astonishing 407 caps for the club, and having been part of it since the beginning 38 years ago, she’s a Wasp through and through.

After watching the game against Bristol, she and other Wasps legends initiated an impromptu game of touch rugby which was a true display of the long-lasting connections and friendships formed by those at the club.

The former scrum-half, known as ‘H’ said: “It’s tinged with sadness but also I’m absolutely made up with the opportunity to re-engage with past players. Wasps is about the people. We’ve spanned over 38 years and I’m sad that the league situation is stopping, but we will never stop. There are too many people who care to let this club go.

“I’ve played with some amazing people, Shelley Rae, Sue Day, Claire Green, Claire Purdy, too many people to name. I started playing rugby when I was 13 by the time I was 20 I felt like I was a complete human because I was spending time with people that gave me life skills and were just my mates. Playing sport meant everything to me.”

“When we came here [Twyford Avenue] we became a team. Giselle [Mather] who I played with coached us then and we whooped everyone for three years, we were so good, we were so complete. A really good team, everyone knew their jobs, and everyone knew their role.

“This club is a family club, it always has been and always will be. They have always embraced the women’s side of things and that will always continue. Wasps will come back.”

As part of the shirt presentation before the final game, H was invited to speak to the players. This moment in particular instilled an added level of confidence within her that the current generation of Wasps players will keep the spirit of the club alive, just as she and many other teammates have.

She said: “Sue Martineau is here who started it, and I’m one of the lucky people who was there when she did. These girls who played today played absolutely brilliant rugby. I came and spoke to them on Thursday, they know the influence of Wasps. Wasps will survive.

“I never got stash like that in my day! It’s having a sense that you belong to something, the fact that you are respected and believed in. It doesn’t matter if you have your name on it or not, that shirt has belonged to a lot of people. That number over the years has belonged to a lot of people.

“Those girls, they have played today like they knew the shirt and they respected it. It’s about that. I’m pointing to my Wasp on my left side because that Wasp will never go,” she added with a beaming smile while placing her hand proudly on the club logo on her shirt.



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