“The Insects arrived on Saturday without their stings, and consequently were utterly routed by the representatives of ancient oriental glory”
So opened the match report in Sporting Life, detailing the first fixture to be played between the Saracens and Wasps at Saracens home ground in Walthamstow back in 1886. On that day Saracens were to run out victorious by 1 goal and 4 tries to nil, inspired by their captain and “the Saladin of today, whose nom de guerre is Jenkins J.A.”
It was to be a rivalry that was frequently renewed in the era prior to the Great War, with the teams facing each other on 15 occasions and Saracens to emerge with the slight upper hand with a record of 8 wins, 2 draws and 5 losses.
The largest win is recorded in 1908, where Saracens ran out 15-0 victors, with a team likely to have featured Aldenham Schoolmaster Norman Brabazon Dick, who was to serve with distinction in the Public Schools battalion in the Great War.
Whilst now playing in High Wycombe, Wasps began life based in North Finchley. Founded in 1867, they are one of the few clubs still functioning today that can trace their origins to an earlier point in time than that of Saracens. As well as sharing a similar North London origin, both clubs also share in the rather peculiar habit of sports club naming that owes much to their Victorian origins. Rather than taking their name from a particular town, or area, teams often took names inspired by wildlife, antiquity or historical entities. Examples of this include some of the teams Saracens played in their first few seasons: Mohawks, Rob Roy, Bees, Buffaloes and Vampires to name just a few. Rather intriguingly there appears to have been an “Arabs” rugby club named in the first fixture list for Wasps’ season 1867, a full 9 years before the founding of Saracens. Whether this was an early inspiration for the formation of the Saracens can be speculated upon, but sadly no hard evidence exists for this! Whilst many of these clubs were not to survive far beyond their initial foundation, fortunately 21st century current rival clubs such as Saracens, Wasps and Harlequins remain great reminders of that tradition.
Although the two clubs played regularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, (15 times in 18 years,) there was no formal league system in the Pre-War era, so fixtures often depended on mutual relations and the desirability and notability of the club. Whilst Saracens during the 1880’s and 1890’s had been amongst the fashionable elites of the game, and was especially noted for its excellent post-game teas and entertainment, during the 1900’s it had rather lost its cachet. Fixtures against established clubs such as the Harlequins, Rosslyn Park or London Scottish therefore became much rarer, although as seen in the results against Wasps, when Saracens did get games they more than held their own! When the call for recruitment came at the beginning of the 1914/15 season, both clubs were equally distinguished in their response, with nearly the entire squads of both clubs enlisting. Following the succession of hostilities, Wasps were the first club to reform in 1918, largely due to efforts of senior committee members who had kept in touch with former players during the war.
Back in the modern day, and with the two greatest of North London rivals preparing to face each other once more at Twickenham this Saturday 6th September 2014, we can only hope that history serves to repeat itself for Saracens. I will leave the last words to the reporter of that first glorious match in 1886: “Wasps, beautiful as they were, buzzed to no good purpose…so were soundly defeated”