Rugby Union: Harlequins rely on art of Lacroix

Harlequins 27 Wasps 20
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The Independent Online
BACK IN the days when London rugby was notable only for its institutionalised pacifism, the crack of thunder half an hour before kick-off would have been enough to persuade Harlequins and Wasps to forget about the rugby and head straight for the after-match cocktails. Times have changed, thank heaven. Last night's derby at The Stoop was effectively a "dead" encounter - the winners could not even be assured of third place in the Premiership, thanks to this evening's rearranged game at Saracens - but there was a fair bit of pride and passion flying around nevertheless.

There was even a half-decent punch-up on the hour mark, starring Adam Black's studs and Garrick Morgan's right knee. Morgan, who also contributed a bunch of fives to the fracas, was given a stern talking-to by Ed Morrison. There was no further hanky-panky, despite Mark Weedon's frank and forthright contest with his fellow New Zealander, Zinzan Brooke.

The Wasps line-up was almost unrecognisable from the one that won Saturday's Cup final - Trevor Leota, Will Green and Simon Shaw were missing from the tight five, Alex King and Mark Denney from midfield - but their replacements were not lacking in the do-or-die department. Indeed, the visitors had by far the better of the first half; Rob Henderson stampeded over in characteristic baby elephant fashion after 22 minutes and but for some last-ditch Quins tackling, there would have been further tries for Weedon and Lawrence Dallaglio.

They were made to suffer for their imprecise finishing when Thierry Lacroix rattled off 12 points in as many minutes straight after the resumption. The veteran Tricolore has yet to decide whether he will remain a Quin next season, but there was no doubting his commitment as he dropped a long-range goal, converted Huw Harries' 46th minute try and then slipped between Darren Molloy and Joe Beardshaw, left Joe Worsley for dead and sidestepped inside Josh Lewsey for a wondrous individual try nine minutes later.

That little burst put Quins 20-10 ahead, but the Morgan incident gave Wasps an attacking field position that allowed Rees to "do a Henderson" and muscle his way in at the posts. The Canadian's conversion and a subsequent penalty levelled the argument, but there was still time for a further contribution from Lacroix. It turned out to be decisive.

With five minutes left, Lacroix dutifully followed up his own speculative punt and picked a cute enough angle of running to drag Mike Friday into touch five metres out. The Quins forwards delivered secure line-out possession, half the back division hit the maul and Chris Sheasby found himself being driven over for a winning try, converted by you know who. Not bad for a French has-been, all things considered.

Harlequins: Tries Harries, Lacroix, Sheasby; Conversions Lacroix 3; Penalty Lacroix; Drop goal Lacroix. Wasps: Tries Henderson, Rees; Conversions Rees 2; Penalties Rees 2.

Harlequins: J Williams; J Keyter (D O'Leary 74), P Mensah, W Carling, D Luger; T Lacroix, H Harries (C Wright 61); J Leonard, T Murphy (capt, C Ridgway 67), R Nebbett (G Halpin 61), G Llewellyn, G Morgan, C Sheasby, Z Brooke, R Jenkins (A Leach 81).

Wasps: J Ufton; N Greenstock, F Waters, R Henderson, J Lewsey; G Rees, M Friday; D Molloy (A Le Chevalier 64), D Alexopoulos, A Black, M Weedon (capt), J Beardshaw, L Dallaglio, J Worsley, P Volley (P Scrivener 77).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).