Quins given rough ride

RUGNY UNION Harlequins 29 Wasps 20
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NOT even a rousing finish in which David Pears, a composed and assured presence at fly-half, dropped three goals in 10 minutes, and Paddy Dunston flopped over for a try, could erase the memory of a disagreeable game in which the weight and frequency of the tackling was of a terrifying intensity but in which the contestants too often went in search of the man rather than the ball.

The occasion was further marred by the departure of the Quins loose-head prop Simon Brown with what appeared to be a serious neck injury. He was carried from the field on a stretcher 10 minutes from the end of the first half and taken to hospital.

The injury was caused by a collapsed scrum with the Harlequins front row under pressure close to their line. But unlike so many other incidents it was not maliciously intended. The same could not be said for the outburst for which Kevin Dunn was shown the yellow card. The Wasps hooker was extremely fortunate not to be sent off and one or two other members of the pack equally lucky to escape censure. But Dunn's confrontational eyeballing of the touch judge who had correctly identified him as the culprit did him no credit whatsoever.

Harlequins were fortunate that Wasps were so off-key that for most of the game they were a disorganised rabble. The continuity, swift recycling of possession and ball retention which illuminated Wasps' play throughout last season were scarcely in evidence yesterday - one lost count of the times the ball spilled from their grasp. Many of the errors were unforced, although the crushing power and accuracy of the Harlequins tackling, with Chris Sheasby and Rory Jenkins forcefully prominent, took its toll of Wasps' physical reserves.

Having succumbed to Harlequins' blind-side thrust - which compared to everything that had preceded it was a model of efficiency - opening the way for Spencer Bromley to score, Wasps were bereft of wit and invention. They were well beaten at the line-out, where Alex Snow and Sheasby reigned supreme.

Wasps' partial recovery on either side of Brown's injury was fleeting, if not entirely fruitless. Rob Andrew kicked two penalties during this spell to add to his first after 10 minutes. But on the day he was outplayed and outthought by Pears, and it was from his astutely placed kick into the corner close to the Wasps line from which the splendid Sheasby won possession and scored Quins' second try.

Both tries were majestically converted by Pears who, once he had found his range, also stroked over two penalties before his remarkable burst of dropped goals.

As a result of their superiority in crucial positions much was seen of the Harlequins back line as an attacking force. Darren O'Leary came within a fingertip of scoring after bursting on to a kick through from Will Carling and there were a number of other close calls on the Wasps line. But most of Harlequins' heroes were in defence. The phenomenal work rate and tireless commitment of Sheasby and Jenkins thwarted Wasps' every move and have surely put both firmly in the minds of the national selectors. What Sheasby may lack in inches he more than compensates for in speed, agility and all-round skill .

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin (capt); S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Russell, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, D Hopley, A James, S Roiser; R Andrew, A Gomarsall; N Popplewell, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), L Dallaglio, M White, P Scrivener.

Referee: J Wallis (Somerset).