RIVALRIES will stretch far beyond league positions this Saturday when third-placed Wasps take on fourth-placed Harlequins thanks to an interesting piece of history.
As thousands of rugby fans gather at the Ricoh Arena to watch the two sides clash in their 38th professional meeting, few will be aware that both clubs used to be one around 150 years ago.
In 1866 Hampstead Football Club was formed, but after a year, the membership was split over the club name and crest.
As a result, Hampstead Football Club was renamed as Harlequins in 1867 with a new multi-coloured club crest, while some members left in protest to form a new club called Wasps with Hampstead’s original black and gold colours.
Since the split all those years ago the two sides have met 37 times professionally, with 18 wins apiece and one draw.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, which kicks-off at 3.15pm, both teams are tied on 37 points in the Aviva Premiership as Wasps look to make it six straight wins for the first time since the 2012/13 season.
“Traditionally both teams considered themselves to have different identities,” said Barney Burnham, who has followed Wasps for 25 years and currently writes the club’s match reports.
“Harlequins represented the city establishment, while Wasps were seen as the team of the middle and working classes.
“A lot of that has changed now with people from all sorts of backgrounds supporting both sides – I also know of several marriages involving both sets of fans!
“Despite being of similar ages, Wasps are not founder members of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) like their Harlequin counterparts. This is because in January 1871 when the RFU was founded, Wasps’ delegate went to the wrong pub and missed the meeting!
“Both clubs have experienced similar fortunes on the pitch in recent years. Harlequins were relegated in 2005 when Wasps won the league, and the reverse almost happened in 2012 when Harlequins were crowned champions, but Wasps were able to escape relegation by one point.
“This weekend’s game is wonderfully poised with both sides level on points, and will no doubt be a closely-fought game.”
The sides last met in October when Harlequins sealed a 26-21 victory to get revenge for the 37-6 defeat to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in February last year.
After Sunday’s game, fans will also have the chance to watch Coventry University take on the University of Warwick in the men’s Varsity rugby final.
Tickets for Wasps v Harlequins and the Varsity final are available from £15 for adults and under-10s go free and are available from www.wasps.co.uk or by ringing 024 7678 6411.