IT MIGHT have baffled the crowd to be told that the paying public is now king in the glitzy new professional rugby union. All the hype about the brave new commercial world of sporting entertainment rang very hollow in the gloom of an error-ridden clash at the Memorial Ground in Bristol. The loudest cheer was for the final whistle.
Two teams comfortably side by side in the middle of the top flight of English rugby contrived, with the help of the referee, to produce a dull melange of errors and lost chances.
Wasps scored the only try of the game when their strong-running wing Shane Roiser was given space. Outside-half Guy Gregory kicked four penalties while his opposite number in the Bristol side, Arwel Thomas, managed only three, giving the London side its second league victory over Bristol this season.
Apart from the try, there wasn't much to persuade the crowd that they had parted wisely with their money. Although Paul Hull did show why he hadbroken the club record for league appearances, by being immovable under the high ball and threatening in attack. Also, Jon Ufton opposite him was similarly assured. In the packs the Bristol prop Alan Sharp was a pillar stopping the home side crumbling, and Lawrence Dallaglio added even more to his stature as the captain of Wasps and a fine back-row forward. He was crucial to the Wasps' try in the first half: the hooker Kevin Dunn stole the ball in loose play, made ground and then worked it to Dallaglio who shrewdly saw space outside him and threw out a pass for Roiser to steam over.
For Bristol, the half-backs Kyran Bracken and Thomas did their best to keep the rudder on the ship when everything seemed about to fall apart.
There are hopeful souls in the South Wales Valleys who think Thomas may be the answer to their perpetual, gloomy question, "Is there anybody who might eventually fill the Welsh outside-half jersey?", although he gave confusing signs yesterday. One moment, he showed all the flair and arrogance of the best products of the fly-half factory; the next, he confounded hopes by taking a blind turn into a wall of Wasps' forwards. On the debit side, he also put up a poor display of kicking, both punts and penalties - some of his missed kicks might have been struck better by his granny.
With the league campaign now in its second half, both sides know they can't achieve anything but are probably safe from the drop. Their minds may well have been elsewhere, but they both need substantial financial surgery if they are to achieve anything next season either. Wasps' Damien Hopley and Bristol's Mark Regan were both resting before their England duty, but even with them back both camps need quite a few reinforcements. After all, it's what the paying customer expects.
Bristol: P Hull (capt); K Maggs, J Keyter, M Denney, N Marval; A Thomas, K Bracken; A Sharp, A Lathrope, D Hinkins, P Adams, G Archer, B Armstrong, M Corry, E Rollitt.
Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, N Greenstock, A James, S Roiser; G Gregory, A Gomarsall; I Dunston, K Dunn, W Green, M Greenwood, R Kinsey, L Dallaglio (capt), P Scrivener, M White.
Referee: S Womersley (Huntingdon).Reuse content