Rugby Union: Fez weather friends' day in the sunshine

Tim Glover at Twickenham sees Wasps swatted in final with a foreign flavour
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The Independent Online
BACK in the dark days of winter, Nigel Wray, watching his cheque- book stub get thicker by the minute, said it would all be worthwhile if and when Saracens played to a full house in a cup final at Twickenham. The only thing Wray, the owner of Saracens, got wrong was that the all- London final for the Tetley's Bitter Cup did not fill every seat. However, that argument does not apply to every glass.

Saracens duly got their day in the sun yesterday, and, for once, their supporters were appropriately attired. It was perfect Fez weather.

If there was the slightest doubt about Saracens winning the cup it was based on the flimsiest of evidence. Fighting all out on two fronts, the cup and the Allied Dunbar Premiership, they had shown signs of fatigue if not exhaustion.

Three of their international players, all pivotal figures, had been out of action in recent weeks, receiving treatment. Francois Pienaar, the player-coach, Michael Lynagh and Kyran Bracken were never going to miss the centre stage and all played hugely significant roles.

Another argument was that at least Wasps had considerable cup final experience, even if it was all negative. Prior to yesterday they had played three, lost three, all to Bath. Would Saracens freeze? On the hottest day of the year and the biggest in the club's history? Before Wray transformed this little north London club by investing a sizeable portion of his fortune, the old Sarries would have got nowhere near this stage.

In any case on such an occasion, the last man on earth in need of a prompter is Pienaar. Three years ago, the former captain of South Africa had lifted the World Cup and, with all due respect to Tetleys, that took a bit more winning.

From the moment Pienaar made a beeline for the Wasps stand-off, Alex King, it was patently clear the Springbok and his team meant business. And this is an outstanding team even if it does have a mercenary, if not dogs of war, look about it.

King - young, gifted and injury prone - has only just returned to the Wasps team after spending most of the season in rehabilitation. Depose the King and the task of winning the cup would be that much easier. The stand-off had already been caught in a tackle when Pienaar hit him high with what almost amounted to a forearm smash. Pienaar was warned and Gareth Rees kicked a penalty.

The game had barely started but Saracens had already taken a lead that was never really threatened, as spirited as Wasps attempted to recover a lost cause.

At the age of 36, Philippe Sella, the world's most capped player, had an au revoir to remember. In the third minute, Gavin Johnson, Saracens' South African full-back, and another at the height of his career, perfectly exploited a good angle to slip past Mark Denney and Sella's strength took him past Rees, Mike Friday and Paul Volley. Lynagh, the world's leading points scorer, converted.

Sella and Lynagh are one match - a match which could win Saracens the double - from retiring. "I was nervous before the start," Lynagh said. "I'm just proud to have done something."

As ever, the Australian understated a virtuoso performance. Virtually everything went Saracens' way and by the 12th minute, when Ryan Constable scorched past Laurence Scrase for the second try, Wasps effectively had their wings pinned to the floor. Constable's minor masterpiece put Saracens 15-3 ahead and there was no way back for Lawrence Dallaglio's team.

Pienaar dedicated the triumph to the former South African coach, Kitch Christie, who died a fortnight ago. It was under Christie that Pienaar and South Africa won the the World Cup in Johannesburg in 1995.

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