Rugby Union: Alert Wasps run wild and free

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The Independent Online
Wasps. . . . . .27 Northampton. . .21 THIS would have satisfied the most jaded of palates. It was an enthralling exhibition of flowing rugby, combining glorious attack with furious defence.

Not once was the opportunity lost to go in search of the positive rather than seek refuge in the negative. Both sides, but particularly Wasps, were wonderfully alert and constant in their support, crisp, clean and accurate in their passing and handling. It was a joyous celebration of a game which broke free from the shackles of its laws and rose above the conditions, which were far from ideal.

Furthermore, the match was admirably controlled by a referee clearly in tune with the players. It was in stark contrast to the unrelieved monotony of some contests of recent memory, the level of skill and sleight of hand from both sides occasionally defying the eye as well as belief.

Such high-risk rugby played as it was in a strong wind and under intermittent squalls of rain was bound to produce mistakes, but that only heightened the level of entertainment. The tries were mostly well-constructed gems of teamwork and timing, none better than the two lethally sharp blows struck by Wasps midway through the second half which finally broke Northampton's brave resistance. The first came when Lawrence Dallaglio, now beginning to look like the genuine article on the blind side, combined well with his back-row colleagues and the second, two minutes later, when forwards and backs swept towards the line in sweet unison, and it was Phil Hopley who was rewarded with the try.

Not so long ago a side eschewing a dozen or more kickable penalties would have been considered certifiable, but it has been Wasps' unshakeable belief that the running game is the way ahead not only for them but for rugby in general. In this they are ahead of their time.

Their tactics paid off handsomely yesterday, when a short penalty inside the Northampton 22 put Paul Delaney over in the corner. The Wasps hooker would have scored a second try in the same position had he not spilled Steve Pilgrim's pass following a move of bewildering speed covering 50 yards.

By this time Northampton were finding it almost impossible to stem the flow as wave after wave of Wasps' attacks rocked them backwards. They had no response to the mobility of the opposition forwards; and even the most sceptical must now be convinced of the merit of a tactical plan which can bear such satisfying fruit. Dallaglio, Ryan and Wilkins are proving to be a supreme blend in the back row, Childs and Damian Hopley are combatively sharp in the centre, and Rob Andrew, the director and master planner, is revelling in the game which is his natural one, but one for which so many thought him unsuited.

Northampton, with the bond created from the shared suffering of their wretched start to the season, competed strongly for all but the last quarter. Martin Bayfield gambolled across the open spaces, Paul Grayson looked more authoritative at fly-half, and Tim Rodber played closer to his known form. It was his interception of Andrew's pass which launched him on a thrilling 75-yard dash to the Wasps line and a try which put Northampton ahead after 20 minutes. They led briefly again before half-time when Grayson kicked his second penalty and again 10 minutes into the second half when he converted his third. But after Dallaglio's try their only response came with the final act of the match when Budge Poutney crossed for a try. It was wholly appropriate that a game of such spectacular movement should have ended in this fashion. Rugby is alive and, thank heavens, not kicking but running.

Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, G Childs, D Hopley, S Pilgrim; R Andrew, S Bates; D Molloy, P Delaney, I Dunston, M Greenwood, N Hadley, L Dallaglio, C Wilkins, D Ryan (capt).

Northampton: S Juds; K Morgan, N Beal, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Hynes, A Clarke, M Lewis, J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (capt), B Poutney, G Seeley.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).