That Old Wasps Gang Is Breaking Up

News of the departure of Simon ‘Give Us A Hug Shawsy’ Shaw from London Wasps comes a day after the announcement of Joe Worsley’s retirement from the game. 

The old gang has broken up. Both Shaw and Worsley were key members of the Wasps team that were phenomenally successful in the middle of the last decade: they won four Premiership titles and two Heineken cups in five years. In the words of the Wu-Tang Clan, “Domination, baby.”

Worsley was a player who the Mole ended up having an awful lot of time for, especially so after England turned a bit shit once they’d won the World Cup. Beforehand, he’d been sort of irritating and obnoxious, a junior member of Clive Woodward’s White Orc squadron who crushed all those around them. He had been touted as ‘The New Laurence Dallaglio’, but there’s only ever going to be one Buy My Book, no matter how often the English rugby media anoint a successor.

The Mole fondly remembers an early Sky post-match interview where a young Worsley name-checked his girlfriend, saying that she’d ‘have his balls’ if he didn’t mention her. This was at a period when the Sky hype-ray was focused squarely on his melon head, and the pundits were lining up to proclaim him as England’s bright new hope; think Chris Robshaw at the moment. When they went back to studio, they talked over his performance, gave him rave reviews and towards the end, just as they were ending the show, they mentioned the interview, and the remark about his girlfriend having his balls; Dewi Morris just threw in that ‘he’d have to grow a pair first’. Doesn’t sound much now, but it was pretty funny at the time.

And in fairness to Worzel Melonhead, that’s exactly what he did. Once England had won the World Cup and the media furore had calmed down, the hype about Worsley seemed to calm down. His limits had been more or less defined as a player, and it was clear that he wasn’t going to be a truly world class all-rounder like his clubmate Dallaglio. One thing he could do, though, was tackle. That lad could tackle all day, and did. He was rock solid in defense, as good a defensive blindside as the Mole has ever seen.

The other thing that is very, very relevant when talking about Worsley’s career is that he was a big game player. It’s an old NFL adage that big players make big plays in big games, and Worsley certainly did that. As Brendan Gallagher mentions in the Telegraph, he had an absolute monster of a game in the 2004 HEC final against Toulouse, and the Mole also recalls cracking cameos from him in the RWC07 semi-final and final, albeit the latter in a losing effort.

Reviewing his career reveals it as one which few players of his era could match, both at club level and at international level.

  • 78 English caps [including 59 starts] from 1999-2011
  • 2003 World Cup Winner
  • 2007 World Cup Runner-up
  • 4 Six Nations Championship wins
  • 2009 Lions tourist
  • Member of 3 World Cup squads [1999, 2003, 2007]

That is a serious roll of honour. By anyone’s standards.

Shawsy won’t get the same love-in from the club he served so well because he’s decided to see out this season – which you’d have to expect will be his last – in sunny Toulon. Wasps say that they had a deal for one last year from the big man, and maybe it’s a bit of a pity that he’s not going to see out his final matches in the black and gold. To be honest though, in the Mole’s eyes Shawsy has done enough in the game to do whatever the f*ck he likes!

He was always a cracking player, and the comic-book story of his second test for the Lions – when he was the best player on the pitch at 36 years old, having waited 12 years to make his Lions test debut – is the sort of thing that validates an entire career in one 80-minute effort. The big lad was up against the best second-row pairing in the history of the game, and he turned in one of the great performances of the pro era in one of the best matches of the decade. What a player.

Looking back on that Wasps pack with a few years of hindsight makes you realise just how good they were. The 2004 vintage comprised Craig Dowd, Trevor Leota, Simon Shaw, Jonny O’Connor, Dallaglio and Worsley [with tighthead Will Green and second row Richard Birkett] and the 2007 vintage saw Rafa Ibanez, Phil Vickery, Tom Palmer, Shaw, Dallaglio, Worsley with English international Tom Rees on the openside and Tom French at loosehead. They are two serious packs, both of them backboned by Dallaglio, Shaw and Worsley.

We’ll hold off from writing Shawsy’s rugby obituary just yet, because the big fellah probably will fit French rugby like a glove and play until he’s forty. Still, looking at where Wasps are now, it’s a long way away from the glory days when Shawsy and Worzel bossed Europe.

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One thought on “That Old Wasps Gang Is Breaking Up

  1. Great post about a great player. Another man who people where often saying he can’t do this, he can’t do that, without appreciating what he did do. He was a destructive blindside and reminds me of a friend who considers himself an out an out gaelic full back. When being pestered to play a game of table tennis by another person he said: “look, its like this I’m not good at any game that doesn’t involve stopping the other person play.” You wouldn’t say Worsley was a match winner, but he sure made it difficult for the other guys to win the match! Pick him with a true openside and hey presto.

    That 2nd heino final against tolouse was a hell of a game and tolouse played a game that was near perfect and superb to watch. Offload upon offload. I can’t remember how to the fore worsley was but i do remember being astonished about how they stuck with tolouse that day and dogged it out. They were like the tortoise in aesop’s fable and the match winner was a fair scrum half to add to the impressive pack you’ve named. I reckon that was the day guy noves got “the mental!”

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