Year review:The most startling performance by any club in 2008 was London Wasps' remarkable achievement in winning the English Premiership.
Wasps found their sting again
The most startling performance by any club side in either hemisphere in 2008 was London Wasps' remarkable achievement in winning the English Premiership. On Dec 29 last year, Ian McGeechan's squad lay in seventh place, 17 points behind Gloucester, the league leaders. The World Cup in France had stripped 14 players from their squad, and the hangover from that tournament was clearly affecting them.
Their final match in December, at home to Bath, changed all of that. Around 10,000 fans had crammed into Adams Park, and by half-time they had witnessed Wasps race in to a 20-0 lead. They eventually won the game 25-10, and that victory gave momentum to Wasps' season. They won 11 of their next 13 matches in the league, and finished second in the table, four points below Gloucester. Having seen off Bath once again in the semi-final play-offs, Wasps proceeded to the final at Twickenham where they faced Leicester in a repeat of the 2005 match.
Lawrence Dallaglio had played in nine finals for Wasps, and had won them all. A club man through and through, this was to be his last match in a Wasps shirt. Although you can credit his teammates Josh Lewsey and Tom Rees for the tries, and Simon Shaw with the man-of-the-match accolade, you could not fault the great man's performance as Wasps clinched their fourth Premiership title in six years. In Europe, the theme of repeat winners continued when Munster won their second Heineken Cup in three seasons.
The French club Toulouse were seeking their fourth win in the competition, but Munster, who have reached the knock-out stages for 10 consecutive seasons, held out to win 16-13 in the Millennium Stadium. Toulouse regained a bit of pride when they defeated Clermont 26-20 in the French league play-off final to lift the Bouclier de Brennus for the 17th time. On the other side of the globe, the Canterbury Crusaders won their seventh Super Rugby title.
The Crusaders, coached by Robbie Deans before he left to coach the Wallabies, went about their campaign in a different manner to Wasps. The Crusaders won their first eight games, one short of their record of nine straight victories in 2006. The competition was the first to showcase the Experimental Law Variations (ELV) and for what it is worth, there were more tries, many more free kicks and the ball was in play for longer than in the 2007 season.
Fourie du Preez, however, the South Africa scrum-half who plays for the Bulls, highlighted his disgust with the ELVs. "Putting the ELVs into effect was supposed to get more attacking rugby," he said. "But look at the amount of free kicks and penalties in a game. "The ELVs are slowing down the ruck situation, too. Rugby is a lot more negative than positive at the moment." Du Preez would say that of course, partly because the Bulls, who were champions in 2007, had an awful season, winning just two of their first nine games.
Although the Sharks, another South African side, made the play-offs, the Bulls' limp defence of their title was indicative of the general malaise in South African rugby post-World Cup. The 2008-09 season promises to be an illuminating one. Wasps are once again in the doldrums in the Premiership. This time, however, their coaching team cannot focus purely on climbing the table. McGeechan is busy preparing for the Lions tour to South Africa.
Head coach Shaun Edwards must juggle his job with his role with the Welsh national team. Can Wasps do it again? It will be fascinating to see if they can do it without Dallaglio. firstname.lastname@example.org