Rugby Union: Harris tips the scales

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The Independent Online
Wasps. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23

TO THEIR intense disappointment, Wasps discovered that the brave new world they had entered so exuberantly at the beginning of the season is as densely populated as the old one. It was not that they did not try their hardest to liberate the game from the constrictions of the laws and to extricate themselves from Leicester's oppressive presence, but they were always confronted by the harsh reality that although backs may improve matches as a spectacle it is the forwards who win them. They must also now accept the equally unpalatable truth that they do not have players of sufficient speed or skill to feed their passion for adventure.

Leicester, on the other hand, have both. They possess a pack of rare balance, a blend of physical power strong enough to break all but the stoutest hearts and the mesmerising pace of Neil Back allied to the Underwood brothers. It was the combination of the Underwoods which lifted the game from its midfield mediocrity and the monotonous procession of penalty kicks at goal - 14 in the first half alone - but it was a brief interlude of fluency.

Leicester's forwards rolled relentlessly upfield before releasing Rory through the middle. Tony, who had come up in support, accelerated round the Wasps' cover to score in the corner. One was left to ponder, however, why such a delightful manoeuvre was attempted just once during the match.

For the rest the game proved that the evolutionary process has advanced little since last season. The intent of both sides to break free ended in frustration as Rob Andrew and Jez Harris engaged in a personal duel of goal-kicking throughout the first half, Andrew finishing ahead with almost the last kick of the half by four penalties and a drop goal to four penalties. By this time two things were apparent. That Wasps' forwards were fighting a losing battle and that not all of them are convinced of the new philosophy of enterprise.

Their game was neither one thing nor another and even when they attempted to open out there was a lack of conviction about their play. No doubt they were handicapped by the absence of two key forwards through injury, their captain Dean Ryan and Lawrence Dallaglio. Their game depends on the ability of these two to make the initial breach in the opposition defence. Matt Greenwood and Buster White never gave up trying, but were unable to gain sufficient momentum to embarrass the opposition.

Leicester, on the other hand, knew exactly where they were going and how to get there. They increased the pace markedly at the start of the second half and Tony Underwood's try five minutes after the restart was the most emphatic statement of their superiority.

Harris, with a smartly taken left-footed drop goal behind an increasingly influential pack and his fifth penalty seven minutes from time, took them clear of any belated challenge from Wasps. They did manage a recovery of sorts during which Andrew kicked his sixth penalty, but it was a tame response, lacking direction and confidence, which suggests that a tactical rethink may be the principal topic of debate in the weeks ahead. That would be a pity, but under the crushing burden of the laws and unsympathetic referees they may have no other choice.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Hunter, A Thompson, G Childs, S Pilgrim; R Andrew, S Bates (capt); G Holmes, K Dunn, I Dunston, R Kinsey, N Hadley, M Greenwood, M White, C Wilkins.

Leicester: J Liley; T Underwood, D Edwards, S Potter, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, N Back, D Richards (capt).

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).

(Photograph omitted)