Rugby Union: Andrew profits as Northampton lose their way

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Wasps. . . . . .20

Northampton. . .12

IT was the fieriest pitch of the season at Sudbury. Difficult to control the ball and even harder to control the temper. For the first quarter of this league match there was nothing on the field that could remotely be described as rugby. Just a series of ill-tempered exchanges and grappling mauls. It suited Wasps, though, Rob Andrew profiting from Northampton's willingness to bring them all down with two penalties in the first 20 minutes.

By this time, fortunately, the forwards had put away their handbags and were concentrating more on the game than the gore which had been streaming from Gavin Baldwin's face since his first-minute altercation with Francis Emeruwa. The gradual improvement in the quality of play was like a crescendo in the final minutes when Northampton showed how they could play and what they might have achieved.

There were two highly charged and competitive packs on the field. Northampton, through Martin Bayfield and Tim Rodber, had been given the ascendency in the line-out and John Olver, with a strike against the head, had taken early advantage of Northampton's superiority in the scrummage. But it was in the loose where Wasps were in control and on the day it was the decisive factor. Northampton have bulk in their back row but no one can match the rude aggression and pace of Emeruwa and the consistently impressive Mike White.

Week in week out, White is one of the outstanding open-side flankers in the country although his efforts, if not unseen, have so far been unsung by the national selectors. Yet he has been Wasps most valuable player this season and his unflinching determination to get to the loose ball set up Wasps' first try scored by the eternally sprightly Huw Davies.

White won a ruck inside the Northampton 22 and Davies found himself at the end of Fran Clough's long pass to score. Later in the half, and in less propitious circumstances, Davies found himself in a 50-yard head-to-head chase towards his own line with Ian Hunter. Lo and behold it was Hunter, the new boy on the block, who came second, beaten by a 34-year-old. Not long afterwards, Northampton's hamstrung Lion left the field, a disconsolate figure.

Rob Andrew, fast recovering his composure and form after the disappointments of the international season, was perfectly placed to extend Wasps' lead just before half-time with a neat drop goal. Both he and Steve Bates profited from the space given to them by Northampton's sluggish back row. Andrew took the opportunity to run more often than he kicked and, in Clough and Graham Childs, he had two alert, enthusiastic supporters.

Wasps were playing at a different pace and with infinitely more variety than their opponents who have been going steadily backwards in the last few weeks. It has ended any slim hope they still had of winning the league title and does not augur well for their forthcoming cup semi-final against Leicester.

Rob MacNaughton's second-half try after intercepting Andrew's pass and sprinting 55 yards and then Ward's try two minutes from time could not conceal the lack of thrust in Northampton's midfield and the inability of their loose forwards to support their backs on those occasions when they were able to break free.

Both Northampton's tries were immediately followed by successful penalties from Andrew, who finished the day with a total of 15 points. It meant that Wasps were able to coast towards a victory which keeps alive their title hopes however faint they may now be.

Wasps: H Davies; P Hopley, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; R Andrew, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (capt), F Emeruwa, M White, M Greenwood.

Northampton: I Hunter (B Ward, 40 min); N Beal, F Packman, R MacNaughton, H Thorneycroft; J Steele, M Dawson; G Baldwin, J Olver (capt), G Pearce, J Etheridge, M Bayfield, P Walton, T Rodber, W Shelford.

Referee: J Pearson (RFU).

Scorers: Andrew (pen, 9 min, 3-0), Andrew (pen, 19 min, 6-0), Davies (try, 30 min, 11-0), Andrew (drop goal, 40 min, 14-0), MacNaughton / Beal (try / conv, 56 min, 14-7), Andrew (pen, 59 min, 17-7), Ward (try, 78 min, 17-12), Andrew (pen, 80 min, 20-12).