Dallaglio relishes return to fray

London Irish 24 Wasps 36
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The Independent Online
"THE LADS were very nervous about playing their first match of the season in front of their home crowd," Dick Best, the London Irish coach, said. This is a strange state of affairs. Normally it's the opposition who view a visit to Sunbury with a certain trepidation.

The Irish, buoyed by the announcement of fresh sponsorship from the Allied Irish Bank, looked as solid as the rouble, particularly in the first half - although their supporters were less disappointed with the team than with the referee, Chris Reeks. Certainly the Irish did not seem to have the rub of the green, but their display reeked of naivety and incompetence.

Wasps, with the England captain Lawrence Dallaglio looking hugely competitive on his return, deservedly won what at times was a desperate dog fight between the forwards. Dallaglio, playing his first match since the cup final against Saracens in May, was in his element.

He relished the physical contact, demolishing James Brown, the Irish stand-off, with a tackle worthy of the Super Bowl and handing off Peter Richards with such venom that the scrum-half had to leave the field with his right eye closed and bleeding.

The Irish made too many basic handling errors and tactically lost the plot. Whenever they put together a series of forward drives they inexplicably disturbed the pattern by putting in some totally pointless kicks.

Richards was the prime culprit. Whatever else the lively scrum-half can do, kicking from the hand is not a strength.

It was from one such aimless kick that Wasps established the lead. Kenny Logan ran it back, beating at least half a dozen defenders in the process, and although a last-ditch tackle prevented him from scoring what, even at this stage, would have qualified as a contender for the try of the season, Wasps capitalised. Logan's run resulted in Lawrence Scrase going over unopposed, although Andy Gomarsall appeared to knock on.

Wasps went further ahead when their forwards drove Paul Volley over following a line out. Logan, taking the goal kicks in the absence of Gareth Rees, made a good job of it, kicking four penalties and two conversions and inflicting the final indignity with a try, needless to say an extremely controversial score, in the last minute.

The Irish, who have undergone a personnel revolution, threatened to arrest the decline with a try by Niall Woods and when the same player landed a penalty they trailed 13-20. That was further narrowed when Conor O'Shea banged over a 55-yard goal on half-time.

Another Woods penalty followed by a try from the South African centre Brendan Venter after a storming run from his co-centre, the New Zealander Robert Todd, swept the Exiles into the lead but they were never in a position to consolidate.

Logan continued to give an impression of a kicker with a couple more penalties before Wasps increased their lead with a soft try. Gomarsall's kick into the corner bounced kindly for Shane Roiser after Richards and Woods had managed to drop the ball between them.

If Gomarsall was fortunate in the part he played in Wasps' first try, it was evened out when the scrum-half had a try disallowed for apparently losing the ball over the line. This was quickly forgotten by the crowd who were almost beside themselves with frustration at the end when Logan went over but appeared to knock the ball forward. Mr Reeks indicated as much by his signal but then changed his mind and awarded the try. At this point even the patience of the Irish players had snapped. In their defence it was an extraordinary decision.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop (S Berridge 57, M Jarvis 78), B Venter, R Todd, N Woods; J Brown (M Jones 73), P Richards (K Campbell 60); M Worsley, R Kirke, K Fullman (R Hardwick 40), N Harvey, M O'Kelly, R Gallacher, K Spicer, K Dawson.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Roiser, L Scrase, R Henderson, K Logan; J Lewsey, A Gomarsall; D Molloy, D Macer, W Green, M Weedon (capt), A Reed (S Shaw 60), L Dallaglio, J Worsley (E Rollett 70), P Volley.

Referee: C Reeks (RFU)