GIVEN THE choice, the Scarlets of Llanelli would far rather have caught the first bus out of Shepherd's Bush than gone eyeball-to-eyeball with the spherical incendiary device known as Trevor Leota. But they did not have a choice. There is very little public transport from west London to west Wales on a Sunday afternoon, and besides, there were Heineken Cup points on offer at Loftus Road yesterday.
So Leota it had to be, sadly for the visitors, who were forced to endure one of the more painful 80 minutes of their sporting lives.
It would be ironic indeed if a New Zealand-reared Samoan with a daft haircut were to dominate a competition designed to move European rugby a few rungs up the ladder, but Leota will be a serious Continental celebrity if he carries on like this. His "offensive defence" certainly offended Llanelli yesterday, to the point where gnarled operators like Robbie McBryde, Chris Wyatt and Neil Boobyer were less interested in looking for gaps than looking to see where the Wasps hooker might be coming from next. "It's not so much a case of Trevor giving us momentum," said Nigel Meville, the Londoners' director of rugby. "He is momentum. He's an impact player who starts the game on the pitch rather than the bench, and the impact tends to go on and on."
Leota can also perform one or two tricks with the ball, however, and his pin-point throw to Lawrence Dallaglio at the back of the Wasps line- out enabled Joe Worsley to complete a watershed try three minutes into the second half. Until that point, the Welshmen had been very much at the races; Stephen Jones, their excellent outside-half, made two clean breaks through the heavy traffic during a breathless first half and with Wayne Proctor and Dafydd James offering genuine gas on the wings, a victory on the road was by no means out of the question.
Their ambitions were comprehensively laid to rest in the third quarter, though. Eleven minutes after Worsley's close-range finish, Alex King reinforced his reputation as the most subtle play-making stand-off in England by creating a second back-row score for Peter Scrivener. King instigated the successful move, easing Kenny Logan away down the left wing with a sublime pass out of contact. He then brought his 20-20 tactical vision to bear on proceedings, kicking the recycled ball 80 metres across field to present the waiting Scrivener with the simplest of touch-downs.
Suddenly, Llanelli were 16-6 down having turned around 6-3 to the good. Their patience slipped, their composure evaporated and their fruitless attempt to run the legs off the Londoners on a narrow pitch ensured that they would not establish a platform in the opposing 22 until six minutes from time. When they finally worked their way into the "red zone", the elusive Jones picked a route through the Wasps midfield to claim a try beneath the posts. Frustratingly for him, it was too little, too late.
Wasps looked fit, fast and forthright; as Gareth Jenkins, the shrewd Llanelli coach, pointed out afterwards, they kept their game plan within narrow parameters, but did everything at pace. The only blot on the Londoners' landscape was their abject goal-kicking. Logan, King and Jon Ufton spurned 19 points between them, while Mark Denney, the centre, blew three more with a drop goal attempt that had the words "big" and "top" stamped all over it.
"We need to get it sorted," admitted Melville. "It doesn't make my life any easier watching those chances go astray because, as this competition unfolds, the big games are going to be won by very small margins." Perhaps Leota should start swinging the tree trunk that passes for his right leg.
Wasps: Tries Worsley, Scrivener; Penalties Logan 3, Ufton. Llanelli: Try Jones; Conversion Jones; Penalties Jones 2.
Wasps: J Ufton; P Sampson (K Logan, h-t), F Waters, M Denney, J Lewsey; A King, B Shelbourne; D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, M Weedon, S Shaw (J Beardshaw, 62), L Dallaglio (capt), J Worsley, P Scrivener.
Llanelli: M Cardey; W Proctor (capt), N Boobyer, S Finau, D James; S Jones, R Moon; P Booth, R McBryde, J Davies, C Wyatt, C Gillies, S Easterby, I Boobyer, H Jenkins.
Referee: J Dume (France).Reuse content