Wasps in crisis as Young has five matches to save giants of the game
23:41 GMT, 23 March 2012
Dai Young wasn't quite prepared for
this. Wasps' season has become a drawn-out fight for survival as a team,
as a club and as an English rugby institution.
It's a fight that has produced countless casualties and it's not over yet.
aside the backdrop of retirements and injuries, rejected stadium plans
and a pending change of ownership, the Welsh director of rugby is quite
clear about the gravity of the situation.
'People have said that Wasps are at a crossroads and I would totally agree with that,' he conceded.
Future perfect: Dai Young says he can see light at the end of the tunnel for Wasps
It is a crossroads with heavy traffic thundering past in every direction; where one wrong move could lead to disaster.'
On Saturday evening, Wasps are at Franklin's Gardens to confront Northampton – a side awash with Test pedigree and title-chasing class.
The visitors used to possess such collective stature and ambition, but they are in do-or-die mode, lying 11th in the Aviva Premiership table, eight points ahead of bottom-placed Newcastle prior to the Falcons' showdown with Worcester on Friday night.
In their last league outing, Young's side beat London Irish 18-13 to end a sequence of nine straight defeats which had plunged them into trouble.
There are five matches left and the script points to a grandstand finale when Newcastle come to Adams Park on May 5.
Juggling act: Young is under no illusions over the task facing Wasps
Assessing this predicament, the former Lions prop said: 'We have to make sure we maintain the cushion we've got now. We're certainly not out of the woods yet because I think Newcastle will win some games.
'Teams who've gone down like Harlequins or Northampton have had a long, hard look at themselves then bounced back far better for the experience.
'I'm hoping we can go through that process without going down first. People think Wasps should be at the top, but we've got no right to be there.
'The club has been in decline for three years and it has to stop. I believe we will still be in the Premiership next year, but we need a top-to-bottom review whether we're in the Premiership or not.'
For Young himself, this has been a tale of the unexpected.
He agreed to move to Wasps from Cardiff – where he had transformed the Blues into title contenders in domestic and European rugby – on the basis that the club were poised to finalise plans for a new stadium in Wycombe, bringing improved facilities, increased attendances and ultimately, better players.
He thought he was joining a bastion of the English game ready to rise again under a committed owner and inspired by a battalion of international veterans.
Instead, that vision soon turned to dust.
Plans for the stadium were rejected, owner Steve Hayes subsequently decided to put the club up for sale and in the mean-time, several leading players were forced to retire – Steve Thompson, Joe Worsley, Dan Ward-Smith and most recently, Tom Rees.
Simon Shaw opted to join Toulon and the injuries came in waves – 15 of a serious nature in all.
Young has had to adapt. He has tried to be philosophical about the gulf between expectation and reality, but it's not been easy.
'There has been so much to deal with and most of it has been unexpected,' he said.
Dynamic duo: Rees (left) retired and Shaw (right) opted to move
'Certainly, it hasn't turned out the way I thought it would. People ask me whether I feel a bit stitched up and I would categorically say I don't. I am sure that everything I was told is what people genuinely believed at the time, but circumstances changed. Hindsight is a marvellous thing. I don't regret leaving Cardiff to come here, but it's fair to say that the picture changed quite considerably from the job I expected to the job I actually had.
On the market: Hayes put the club up for sale
'I just hope the sale of the club goes through quickly so we can get the funding to improve our squad and our infrastructure, because it's not good enough. There's still a lot of ability and pride and history at Wasps, there's still a lot of heart and support, but that won't get us everywhere.'
While he has been heavily occupied with the task of keeping Wasps in the top division, Young has savoured the welcome diversion of seeing many of the players he brought through at the Blues play a major part in another Grand Slam for Wales.
Mixed in with the personal pride is a strong conviction that a similar crop of talented youngsters at Wasps can re-establish the club's lost status as one of the leading contributors to England squads.
'It does give me a buzz to see Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton, Alex Cuthbert doing well with Wales, because they were all players who I signed up and brought through our academy,' he said.
'I'm very proud to see those guys doing so well and also Gethin Jenkins, who has been around a lot longer and I spent a lot of time working with.
'There are a lot of quality young players here too – Christian Wade, Billy Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Elliot Daly. I can see light at the end of the tunnel and I'd like to be here for a long time, to see these guys playing for England. That would give me the same pride as seeing Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton playing for Wales.'
Stars of the future: Christian Wade (left) and Joe Launchbury (right)
That is a hope for the future – a future at Wasps that will be enhanced by the return of England forwards James Haskell and Tom Palmer in the summer.
But back to the present, the task at hand is to avoid the drop, starting with today's daunting trip to the East Midlands.
'Is it a good time to go to Franklin's Gardens, when Northampton have just lost a final and they've got all their internationals back Probably not,' said Young.
'We know it's a tough place to go and we know we haven't had much joy there for a number of seasons, but we also know this game is important to us. We're going there to win, but our focus is to make sure we come away with something.'
If he can just complete this perilous survival mission, then Young can start plotting the re-building and revival programme, which is what he really had in mind when he took the job on.