Gamble pays dividends for Wasps

Wasps 36 Saracens 21
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The Independent Online
It was hardly the first gamble ever taken at Loftus Road - after all, Stan Bowles used to play football there - but it may have been the biggest. Wasps' decision to relocate their north London derby with Saracens to the home of Queen's Park Rangers could easily have backfired and, had it done so, rugby would have lost some of its new professional lustre.

Sighs of relief all round, then. Almost 9,000 found their way to Shepherd's Bush for a rousing Sunday afternoon gallop. The comparison with the 12,000 or so who watched QPR lose to West Bromwich Albion at the same venue 24 hours previously was reassuringly favourable.

Wasps intend to play a dozen high-profile games in their five-star second home; only when Orrell and West Hartlepool, the impoverished northerners, make the long trip to the capital will they slum it at Repton Avenue.

"This is what it's all about," Rob Smith, the Wasps coach, said. "The surface makes the players want to run and the spectator facilities are bang up to date. We're playing new rugby now and the surroundings here reflect that."

Smith conceded that the dimensions of the pitch were less than ideal - just about the right length but five metres narrower than usual. If he ever pairs Gareth Rees and Va'aiga Tuigamala in midfield, the Wasps wings will find themselves up against the advertising hoardings. There was no need to make structural adjustments to accommodate the big men yesterday. Tuigamala does not join the club until today and Rees was shifted from stand-off to full-back to cover a late injury to Jon Ufton.

As enforced moves go, it worked a treat. The nomadic Canadian helped himself to 23 points with a try and six penalties but more intriguingly from England's point of view, his switch allowed Wasps to give Alex King a league debut at stand-off. If two try-making half-breaks, an accomplished left-footed drop goal and a thoroughly intelligent all-round performance add up to a decent first game, King can count himself a success.

His life was made considerably easier by the early departure of his opposite number, Michael Lynagh, who took a heavy tackle from Lawrence Dallaglio on 26 minutes and dislocated his right shoulder. The former Wallaby captain will be out of action for anything up to 12 weeks and Saracens, who have set so much store by his presence, will miss every hair on his head.

While Lynagh was on the field, Sarries were in business. He kicked two early penalties, one during a ludicrously timed tannoy announcement regarding illegally parked cars and looked capable of confusing Dallaglio and the rest of the Wasps' back row with the breadth of his repertoire.

It was a different story after his retirement. Dallaglio and the impressive former Harlequin, Chris Sheasby, settled into a dynamic rhythm and with King prodding and probing, the visitors were pulled inside out.

Simon Mitchell, another refugee from The Stoop, marked his debut with the first try, but the pick of the scores came after the break. Andy Gomarsall claimed the first six minutes into the half, feeding King on the Sarries 22 and then making good ground to position himself on his partner's shoulder for the scoring pass.

There was even better to come nine minutes from time when Will Green ploughed towards the line, King slipped through the narrowest of gaps and Dallaglio found the quality pass out of the tackle to send Rees over in the left corner.

Wasps: Tries Gomersall, Mitchell, Rees. Pens Rees 6. Drop Goals King. Saracens: Tries Hill, penalty try. Cons Tunningley. Pens Lynagh 2, Tunningley.

Wasps: G Rees; P Sampson, N Greenstock, A James, S Roiser; A King, A Gomarsall; D Malloy, S Mitchell, W Green, D Cronin, M Greenwood, M White, C Sheasby, L Dallaglio (capt).

Saracens: A Tunningley; K Chesney, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh (D Edwards, 26), K Bracken; R Andrews, G Botterman, P Wallace (C Olney, 73), P.Johns, T Copsey, J Green (D Zaltzman, 69), T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

n A last-minute try by the substitute Dennis Hickie saved Ireland's blushes yesterday, giving them a 22-21 victory over Munster in a vibrant match at Thomond Park, Limerick.

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