Rugby Union: Dallaglio hits heights in a lost cause

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 53

Wasps 17

Harlequins, who had a bright start to the season followed by a wretched autumn, culminating in annihilation in the European Cup in Toulouse, took more than Premiership points from what was supposed to be a derby match. Derby and Joan more like.

This was Quins' fourth victory in the league; Wasps' fourth defeat. It is becoming difficult to remember that Wasps, who collapsed in record fashion yesterday, won the championship last season.

Thierry Lacroix, who was no doubt prouder to be French rather than a Quin when Toulouse scored 51 points against his club, was more at home at the Stoop. Every time Lacroix scores they play the can-can over the PA system and the result was a right old knees up. Lacroix scored 26 points as Quins registered their highest score against Wasps.

The game was only 35 seconds old when Lacroix dropped a goal. Then came Wasps' finest moment. From the re-start Bill Davison, the Quins' captain, tapped back to nobody in particular, Lawrence Dallaglio hacked on and Jon Ions, making his Wasps' debut, touched down.

Dallaglio, of course, cannot win. Seven days ago he was captaining England to one of their finest moments in the epic draw against the All Blacks at Twickenham; now, despite having another magnificent match, he found his club routed.

Quins could afford to leave out the former England captain Will Carling, given a slapped wrist for not attending training. Did they miss him? They enjoyed the luxury of bringing on Keith Wood and Laurent Cabannes as replacements. Wasps also lost their hooker, introducing Trevor Leota who looks like a cross between Jonah Lomu and Precious McKenzie.

Midway through the first half Leota would have given Wasps a deserved lead but for dropping the ball. The turning point came on the stroke of half-time when Andy Reed, hovering in the three-quarter line, delivered a lock forward's pass which was duly intercepted by Daren O'Leary who ran 70 yards for a try, giving Quins a 22-10 lead.

Forty minutes later O'Leary scored again, a minute after Gareth Rees, throwing a torpedo pass in desperation, saw the missile hit his own side amidships. The pass was intercepted by Tulsen Tollett who sprinted over beneath the posts.

Wasps managed a penalty try in the second half after pressure at a scrum - Jim Fleming, the referee, had already given Quins a similar award - but it was their only moment of control. Dallaglio replaced his scrum cap (it kept impairing his vision) with hisheadband but despite putting in a super human effort he did not prevent Wasps from making a series of basic errors, as their rugby director, Nigel Melville admitted. "We gave away an horrendous amount of ball in important places," he said. "We will be playing expansive rugby. That is the only way to play and if the players can't perform at the top level in that way, then we will have to look elsewhere. The squad is contracted to Wasps Rugby Club and I expect them to play the way we ask them to."

Zinzan Brooke, Quins' big signing, was introduced to the crowd of nearly 8,000. The great All Black has been photographed in a Quins jersey for publicity purposes although he is not eligible to play for the club until next season. On this evidence he may be surplus to requirements.

It is difficult to see where Wasps go from here, apart from down. Alex King was back after injury but, on the day, he was not in Lacroix's class. Those who can, can; Wasps couldn't.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, J Keyter, J Ngauamo (T Tollett, 55), L Belligoi; T Lacroix (P Challinor, 73), N Walshe; D Rouse, T Billups (K Wood, 13), M Cuttitta, G Llewellyn, R Strudwick, R Jenkins (L Cabannes, 53), R Leach, B Davison (capt).

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, R Henderson ( A James, 79), L Scrase, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy (A Black, 61), S Mitchell (T Leota, 18), I Dunston, M Weedon, A Reed (S Shaw, 56), L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, J Ions (J Worsley, 65).

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).

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